Sheet Metal Workers 36 Heavy Metal Summer Experience introduces teens to the sheet metal trades


Next St. Louis camp begins June 11

Assistant Editor

HEAVY METAL SUMMER EXPERIENCE – Students participate in the 2023 SMACNA Heavy Metal Summer Experience at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 state-of-the-art training center. This year’s two-week camp introducing students to the sheet metal trades will be held June 11 to June 21. – Photo courtesy of SMACNA St. Louis

St.  Louis – Bayless High School senior Tyler Schuetz was having a hard time trying to figure out what to do after high school. His choices included going to college or working a full-time job.

Then his mom saw a flyer on Facebook about the 2023 Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE) being offered at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36. The two-week camp offers teens a hands-on opportunity to explore a career in the sheet metal trades. Schuetz took part in last June’s program, and four months later, he became a Local 36 apprentice.

“I would most definitely recommend this program to anyone who likes to work with their hands,” said Schuetz, who works for Welsch Heating and Cooling. “Being so young and having this opportunity offered to you is phenomenal, especially considering the pay and benefits. I love going to work. It’s the best job ever. Every day is paradise.”

Angie Simon, HMSE president and co-founder, came up with the idea for the camp. It started with two camps in 2021 – one in Palo Salto, Calif., and one in Seattle, Wash., – and last year grew to 21 camps with 325 participants. The goal was to expand work-based college alternatives, introduce high school students and recent graduates to careers in the building trades and help fill the industry’s skills shortages.

“It’s really been a win-win program for everyone involved,” Simon said. “It helps contractors and unions find talent in their local communities, and it provides teens an opportunity to learn about the best-kept secret in town – a career in the trades. This year, we’re expecting nearly 600 students to participate across the nation.”

The HMSE program seeks to introduce young people to a variety of high-paying careers in the building trades. The summer camps give students exposure to all aspects of construction through hands-on projects and learning from some of the best craftspeople in the industry.

HMSE targets underserved areas, diverse applicants and applicants who are looking for alternatives to college. HMSE partners with schools, CTE programs and non-profits to seek out candidates who are interested in the field of construction and those who are simply searching for new and interesting opportunities to learn.

HMSE operates in partnership with union signatory contractors, union contractor associations like Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) among others, and Joint Apprentice Training Centers (JATCs). It’s primary focus has been the sheet metal trades, but it is hoping to expand into other trades.

This will be the third year the program will be offered in St. Louis, said Susan Miller, SMACNA St. Louis executive director. Students spend one week visiting local contractors and another full week in training at Local 36’s state-of-the art training facility.  Camp begins on June 11.

“It just melts my heart to see these kids being introduced to the trades because you’re actually changing lives,” Miller said.

“Some of these kids don’t see a way out of poverty and then it’s like a light bulb going off when they hear how much a career in the trades pays. The best part is students who graduate and pass the test can skip over the 400-person waiting list to join Local 36.”

This year students in the St. Louis program will be able to visit three contractors – residential, commercial and architectural – to help them decide which career pathway they want to take, Miller said.

“When people think of the sheet metal trades, HVAC usually comes to mind,” said Local 36 Business Manager Ray Reasons. “But our trade is very diverse, and there are many different pathways to follow. The Heavy Metal program as gives us a way to enlighten the students as to what we do.”

Welsch Heating and Cooling, a Local 36 signatory contractor, has been participating in the St. Louis program since 2022. Welsch Heating and Cooling’s Paul Heimann, who also serves as vice president for St. Louis SMACNA, said the program has been invaluable for all the contractors involved.

“With the aging workforce, we have to get students interested in the trades and contractors can literally pick and choose who they want to work with from students participating in the program,” Heimann said. “That’s how we chose Tyler. How he presented himself and his attitude made a really good impression on me.”

The program, which provides free tools and gear from Milwaukee Tools and boots from Red Wing, is for high school students or recent graduates ages 17 to 19. Students who are interested in becoming an apprentice in the trade will skip the waitlist and receive direct entry into the sheet metal trade.

The deadline to apply for the St. Louis HMSE program is March 28. For more information or to apply, visit

Editor’s note: A story in the Feb. 15 edition of the Labor Tribune incorrectly stated that Sheet Metal Workers Local 36’s Heavy Metal Summer Experience offers teens a hands-on opportunity to explore a career in the sheet metal and piping trades. Although national efforts to expand the program to other trades have begun, the St. Louis program only explores the sheet metal industry. The Labor Tribune regrets the error.


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