Happy Veterans Day

Military Veterans Get Paid to Learn Sheet Metal Trade

The unemployment rate among military veterans has been the talk of the nation lately, with companies such as Walmart and the Home Depot pledging to hire more veterans in the coming years.earn-while-you-learn

Although Helmets to Hardhats has been helping veterans find careers in the construction trades for a decade, many veterans still aren’t aware of all the program offers. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate among veterans ages 20 to 24 was 20.6 percent in 2012, higher than any other veteran age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same age group of nonveterans shows an unemployment rate of 16.5 percent.

“Although young veterans have proven work experience, dedication and discipline, they have a higher unemployment rate than the everyday person off the street in the same age group,” says Larry Lawrence, regional field representative/instructional development specialist for the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry. “That doesn’t make sense to me. People with this military training and an honorable discharge should be able to work, and the sheet metal unions in Pennsylvania are making this happen as long as the work is there.”

The ITI gives preferential standing to applicants who come to training centers through Helmets to Hardhats.

A few training centers take it a step further. In Pennsylvania, the sheet metal workers union gives veterans direct entry into the state’s two apprentice programs, which take the average civilian applicant up to 18 months to get into.

“We accept the honorable discharge and say we want that kind of candidate,” says Aldo Zambetti, coordinator at the training center at Local 19 in Philadelphia. “I am the human resources department. I can have the résumé and see if someone has HVAC experience or construction experience and put them to work as long as it’s available.”

Pennsylvania veterans interested in sheet metal work – including air conditioning and heating, welding and computer drafting, among others – can bypass the interview and test, enroll in the apprentice program and go straight to any available work. While all apprentices are in school, they can work while they learn for free.

“We’ve always had a great experience with Helmets to Hardhats apprentices,” Zambetti says. “I’ve not seen one dropout. I’ve never seen one person fail to graduate to be a journeyperson. I see the Helmets to Hardhats vets in their first five years at their positions, and they are holding higher level jobs, and I think it’s because of their military training.”

Sheet Metal Workers Local 40 in Connecticut also has had positive experiences with the apprentices sent there by the organization. Since 2007, 100 workers have come to trades in the state through the program. The down economy saw a drop in those numbers, but with things looking up, Local 40 business manager David Roche would like to see more veterans in training.

“They have a work ethic. They’re used to taking direction, getting up early and going to work every day. They pay attention. They catch on quicker and they seem to excel through the program and afterwards,” Roche adds. “Some of our best workers came through the military.”

In his state, Roche said project labor agreements (PLA) are calling for a percentage of the workforce to be military veterans.

“We’re putting it in every one of our PLAs,” Roche says. “It’s helping the guys who deserve a job when they come back, and we’re getting quality workers. It’s a win-win for us all around.”

Darrell Roberts, executive director for Helmets to Hardhats, was a union sheet metal worker, served in the U.S. Navy for four years and the National Guard for six.

He says many active service members don’t know their options. He suggests they check out the Helmet to Hardhats website to find the career that matches his or her background, personality and future goals in time for the discharge. The program also provides mentorship and eases the transition into civilian life.earn-while-you-learn2

“On one hand you’re really helping the service member,” Roberts says. “On the other hand, you’re helping the workers and contractors because you’re bringing on good workers. It’s good for everyone involved.”

Veterans have a lot of choices, which can be good or bad. Trades like the sheet metal workers help by making the process easy.

“Direct entry is a great item. It’s a great boon. It’s not unique, but it is rare. It’s something we’ve been pushing across the United States with all the trades,” says Roberts of Pennsylvania’s direct entry program for sheet metal workers. “You have to educate people that they can make a career out of being a sheet metal worker. The goal of Helmets to Hardhats is to show there are real quality careers in construction, and we’ll help you with that transition. We try to get the stumbling blocks out of the way.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200. 


Fabricate, install and service:

  • Heating, Venting, and Air Conditioning Systems
  • Blowpipe and Industrial Systems
  • Metal Roofing
  • Coping and Flashing
  • Stainless Steel Work for Restaurants, Kitchens and Hospitals


The apprenticeship program combines free on-the-job training with classroom instruction at state-of-the-art facilities or in the vocational training departments of local schools and/or community colleges.

The program lasts four years, during which apprentices receive wages and benefits. By the end of the fourth year, apprentices attain journeyman status. 


You earn while you learn the trade. Wages vary according to the location of the local union. The average starting wage for first-year apprentices is 40 to 50 percent of the journeyman’s wage rate, plus benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says the average annual income of sheet metal workers was $46,530 in May 2011.

More articles from EDUCATION

What Makes a School Military Friendly?
Just for Veterans
The GI Bill Isn’t the Only Education Funding Option
No Veteran Left Behind
Going Back to School
Explore Employers
Learn more about employers
featured in G.I. Jobs
No events were found
» see the full calendar

What is your biggest obstacle to completing a post-military education?