Sheet Metal Workers reaching apprentices of the future

CHRIS BRUNNERT, business representative with Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, shows students in the Troy Buchanan High School shop program how to properly cut a hole in a section of ductwork. – Labor Tribune photo

Collaboration with Troy Buchanan High sparks student interest in apprenticeship


There’s a shortage of skilled labor right now and unions are struggling to find enough apprentices to fill increased demand.

In other words, unions are saying, “Hey kids, we have jobs, we provide the training, we ensure that you’re paid good wages and benefits.” But still, not enough young men and women are opting for a career in the building trades.

Chris Brunnert, business representative with Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, recently found a key to reaching kids by collaborating with the Troy Buchanan High School shop program for HVAC training while constructing a home that will later be sold to help fund further school shop programs.

“Out in the rural areas, the farm kids already work hard and know how to get their hands dirty,” said Brunnert, who lives in the Lincoln County area. “I figured if I could get a program going in the school and give these kids an opportunity to learn the trade, they’ll be more likely and better prepared to join our Local 36 Apprentice Program.”

Advertising an apprentice program, even with a parental push, isn’t enough, Brunnert said. But giving young men and women a taste of the trade, what they’ll learn and do, and… then telling them about the benefits, training and how much money they can make in the trade – that sparks their interest.

“Our Local 36 involvement is also helping the students to understand more about what unions do,” Brunnert said. “It gives them a positive union experience. And that’s good, because it also dispels any negativity they may have heard about unions.”


It was one of those recent unusually cold, snowy mornings for the first day of training when the busload of students from Troy Buchanan High trekked down the wooden framed stairway of a half-built house to a “real life” classroom with hands-on training allowing the students to build the HVAC from the ground up.

Local 36 contractor Paul Lawler of Mid State Mechanical is donating his time to teach during the home’s construction phase, then at completion, a Local 36 service representative will come in and instruct the students about the refrigerant, air-conditioning lines and start up.

School Instructors Joey Pietzman and Ben Gifford also work with students as part of their shop curriculum and make the morning bus trip from Troy Buchanan High School HVAC to the home construction site in rural Troy.

On this recent morning, Lawler climbed a ladder and shined a flashlight into an area the students would be working. Next, he grabbed a sheet of tin and a plyer like tool. The students watched, wondering how they will ever do the work.

“Does anyone know what this is?” Lawler said, showing a tin snip. The students were rookies, for sure, but Lawler said by the end of class, they’ll be a step ahead of those entering the Sheet Metal Workers Apprentice program.

“This experience is good for the future apprentice and the contractor,” Lawler said. “By the time they’re finished, they will have gone through each part of the HVAC building process.”

Local 36 is fully sponsoring the HVAC portion of the project for the students’ classes. Brunnert was successful in getting all of the HVAC materials donated by signatory contractors, and Design Aire donated a Trane air-conditioner.

“Over the years, our shop class has built six houses, but all our kids did was framing and siding, and we hired others for the various parts of the house,” said Pietzman. “This help from the Sheet Metal Workers not only increases our training, it helps the overall program succeed.”

When the house is completed, it will be offered for sale to the public with funds going to the school to for next year’s building project.



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