Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


HVAC Update – Creating a pathway for youth to get into the trades earlier

Apr 02, 2018

IMG_4856_250pxSMACCA Milwaukee’s new Youth Apprenticeship Program is demonstrating that the trades are not only capturing the hearts and minds of high school students, it is convincing educators, counselors, and parents that construction can be a practical and rewarding alternative to college.

“This has been a great opportunity to get a jump start on an amazing career,” said Gaven Post, a youth apprentice with SMACNA contractor Total Mechanical in Pewaukee, Wisc. When he graduates, he will start as a pre-apprentice and then begin his apprenticeship. “There will be no wasted time. I’m glad I took this opportunity while in high school with the most friendly and motivating company around.”

SMACCA Milwaukee’s Youth Apprenticeship program is part of Wisconsin’s School-to-Work initiative that reaches out to high school students who want hands-on instruction in the HVAC industry and gives them insight into a career in the trades.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Dajen (Diane) Bohacek, associate director of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association of Milwaukee (SMACCA Milwaukee), who helped develop the initiative last summer to include five high schools, Local 601, and a handful of SMACNA employers. “We put together this program, presented it to employers to see who could pilot it, and reached out to our labor partners. They all said, ‘We can make this happen.’”

Five students (one junior and four seniors) entered the program last summer. After working part-time during the summer and the school year, four seniors who are graduating this year have committed to the trade and contacted Local 601 to begin their applications to become apprentices.

“It’s great to work with our labor partners at Local 601 who have been open to the idea, and leadership at the union has made it successful,” said Bohacek. “It has been a team effort. It has been great watching it flourish.”

Students start with 40 paid hours of pre-employment training with Local 601 that includes OSHA rules, safety, union heritage, and first-aid training. They attend union training in the morning, then work with their employers in the afternoon.

During the school year, students take required and construction-related courses and spend elective time with their employers. Students receive high school credit for their job.

Committed to the program, Total Mechanical employs two high school students, one on the service side and one in construction. Both students have been so successful, they have been offered apprenticeships when they graduate.

“We’re trying to help people find out what they want to do sooner,” said Jack Schirpke, vice president of the environmental services division at Total Mechanical. “Young people aren’t exposed to the building trades like they used to be. It comes down to starting to educate people when they are younger.”

“We want to see if this really excites them and if they want to do it for the rest of their career,” Schirpke said. “The biggest thing is the investment in getting the word out about the trades and in making that connection for parents, students and educators. And if we get success stories, that’s a one-two win.”

SMACCA Milwaukee plans to double the program this summer to include 10 positions and two-to-three additional high schools and employers. “We want to keep the number of students controllable and help employers feel they are supported,” Bohacek said. “Our labor partners believe this is a positive feeder for the registered apprenticeship program. Ten is the magic number.”

Learn more about SMACCA Milwaukee’s Youth Apprenticeship program.

Listen to the Milwaukee chapter podcast, The ‘Ins and Outs’ of Youth Apprenticeship.

Read a Hard Hat Chat blog about the Youth Apprenticeship Program.

View the SMACCA Milwaukee chapter’s Youth Apprentice PowerPoint Presentation.