Representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor, Pfizer, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the Ironworkers and SMART military veterans attended an event in November to recognize sponsors of the SMART Heroes Foundation, a nonprofit, independent organization administered by members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) that supports funding for the SMART Heroes program. The program, which helps transition active-duty military members to a civilian career in the unionized sheet metal industry, celebrated its fifth anniversary last fall.
The SMART Heroes program is a partnership between SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI), the education side of unionized sheet metal, along with the union and training centers of Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 in Western Washington and Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During the program’s seven weeks, active-duty military and recent veterans receive training equivalent to the first year of apprenticeship. Upon graduation, they are provided direct entry into any of SMART’s apprenticeship programs in the United States.
In his opening remarks, SMART General President Joseph Sellers pointed out how programs such as SMART Heroes provide a sense of stability, not just for service members and veterans, but also for their families.
“When soldiers are transitioning out of the service, they’re not sure what to expect, where they’re going — ‘do I have a job; will I have healthcare; will I be able to support my family?’” Sellers said. “Not only does SMART Heroes afford service members the chance to enter into an apprenticeship program with advanced placement, but it’s also giving that transitioning soldier a sense of security — a real job, a real career with benefits, retirement security, the ability to sustain their family.”
Mike Harris, ITI administrator, spoke of the program’s achievements, noting it was “nearing the 500-graduate benchmark, a remarkable achievement,” he said.
Giann Salicrup, veteran and apprentice at Sheet Metal Workers Local 100 in the Washington, D.C., area, presented awards to many of the program’s sponsors. The Squad Level Sponsorship Award was presented to Jim DeMay, Pfizer director of government relations, and Stephen Ubl, PhRMA president and chief executive officer, was recognized with the Company Level Sponsorship Award.
“What a great marriage this is, in terms of military service members matriculating into apprenticeship programs,” Ubl said. “Congratulations on this great program — we are proud to support it.”
James D. Rodriguez, the U.S. Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, assured attendees the Department of Labor is committed to its partnership with the union to help service members and veterans transition into the workforce.
“It’s a natural fit to want to go to an organization where service members have a sense of camaraderie, teamwork, mission,” Rodriguez said. “We know that our veterans who participate in apprenticeship programs have financial security.”
The program is changing lives, “making sure young individuals like Giann Salicrup can transition to these life-changing careers,” added Martin Helms, executive director of Helmets to Hardhats.
“It takes a village, and you’re all a part of our village, so thank you very much,” added Darrell Roberts, a veteran and SMART’s director of organizing.
The SMART Heroes program launched in August 2017 at Local 66 in Washington. A second location in Colorado Springs began offering the same training in August 2019. In addition to the SMART Heroes Foundation, other donors supporting the SMART Heroes program include companies of all sizes, inside and outside the trade, individuals and organizations. Click here for more information about how to become a corporate sponsor or how to donate.