No-debt education alternative

By | October 11, 2013 |

Elected officials and educators will try hands-on sheet metal work at school where apprentices are paid while learning a middle-class trade

The San Diego Sheet Metal Joint Apprenticeship Training Center will open its doors to the public Monday to showcase an education alternative that provides middle-class careers free from student loan debt.

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Veterans, educators, career counselors, contractors and elected officials will be able to try their hand at crafting something from a sheet of metal during the open house. Sheet metal instructors will demonstrate the skills of the trade – everything from mathematical drafting to welding to installing skyscraper roofs.

The open house will be 10am-3pm Monday, Oct. 14, at 4596 Mission Gorge Place, San Diego 92120, with a 12 noon presentation by Joseph Powell, Business Manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 206, SMW 206 President Dave Gauthier and others.

The training center is one of 160 around the US and Puerto Rico opening their campuses Monday to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the International Association of Sheet Metal Workers. The San Diego apprenticeship school, a program run jointly with construction contractors, is 72 years old.

Apprentices are not charged for tuition, books or materials for the five-year program. They pay for their education by working with signatory contractors while getting on-the-job training. And they are paid for that work – starting at $17 an hour, with raises twice a year.

“Sheet Metal apprentices become middle-class before most college graduates,” said Training Coordinator Chris Caricato, who apprenticed in the program himself 20 years ago. “Our apprentices can make more than $70,000 a year when they graduate, with no student loans to pay off.”

Sheet metal workers from San Diego Local 206 helped build the nosecone for Charles Lindbergh’s plane, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” back in 1927. More recently, they created the exterior of the remodeled San Diego Airport, the dome of the new San Diego central library and countless custom-built heating and ventilation ducts throughout the region.

“I can go on any freeway in San Diego and see buildings that I helped build,” Caricato said. “You get a lot of satisfaction out of that. It’s something that will be around a long time, and your kids say, ‘My dad built that.’”

Over the last 125 years, the industry has evolved. While snips and hammers are still common, today’s tools also include computers, software, plasma cutters and e-readers. Today’s sheet metal apprentices learn algebra and geometry, and put that high-level math to use on the job.

Visitors to the open house can speak one-on-one with instructors and learn about the unionized sheet metal industry, its accredited training programs and the benefits of graduating with no tuition debt. Training coordinators also will be available to discuss new affiliations with local colleges and trade schools, vendors and employers seeking highly skilled workers.