As of March, the SMART Heroes program has successfully graduated more than 500 veterans and current military members from its programs in Western Washington Sheet Metal and at Sheet Metal Workers Local 9 in Colorado. With an average retention rate of about 55%, Josh Moore, SMART Heroes coordinator for the ITI, said it’s a solid number but one that could use some work.
“We would definitely like to see that [retention rate] number go up, but it’s what we expected,” Moore said. “We’re happy with that number — over half are staying in the trade — but we always want to improve on that.”
Moore, who was hired late last year to oversee the SMART Heroes program, said his position was created to help SMART Heroes succeed. This includes knocking down obstacles between veterans and a career in sheet metal, which Moore accomplishes by tracking the graduates once they leave the program and ensuring they are connected with training coordinators in their areas.
Once graduates finish the SMART Heroes program, they can choose from limited apprenticeship spots in SMART Heroes locations in Western Washington and Colorado, travel back to their hometowns or choose to go somewhere else to continue their apprenticeships, Moore said.
“We would like veterans to relocate, if they can, to places such as Memphis, where large projects are taking place,” he said.
Moore is working with training programs to make sure they are registered with the Veterans Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E), formerly the vocational rehab program. If a training center has ever had a veteran in its apprenticeship program, or if it’s affiliated with a community college, it has a facility code, which is needed to register with Veterans Affairs (VA). This registration makes it possible for veterans to receive post-9/11 or VR&E benefits.
“I think what all veterans bring to the trade is leadership, the ability to adapt to any situation and adapt to stress,” Moore said. “I think we’re finding veterans are more accepting of those things due to their previous experiences.”
Launched in August 2017 in Washington, the SMART Heroes program was established to provide free sheet metal industry training to enlisted U.S. military men and women who plan to enter civilian life within the year, thereby assisting in a successful transition into the civilian workforce. The second location in Colorado Springs began offering the same training in August 2019.
In order to graduate, participants complete a seven-week course to earn the equivalent of their first-year sheet metal apprentice training (224 hours). Upon discharge from service, these graduates may choose to receive direct entry and advanced placement as a second-year sheet metal apprentice at 148 SMART apprenticeship programs in the United States.