Staff Sgt. Antonette Ventura’s path to becoming a sheet metal journeyperson took an unexpected detour when she was deployed to Saudi Arabia in late 2020, during the middle of her apprenticeship. Thanks to the support she found at the SMART Local 88 training center in Las Vegas, however, her confidence in finishing the program never wavered.

“She’s very hard-working, very knowledgeable and willing to learn,” Abraham said. “I am hopeful that she would be willing to be an instructor in the near future.”

Ventura, who grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, is the first member of her family to venture into the unionized trades. She moved to Las Vegas to seek her future among the opportunities in the growing city, then found Local 88 during her job search. When she got the approval letter to come and test, she immediately went in and performed well on the exam, as well as the interview. The first two years of her apprenticeship went smoothly — and she took to the work straight away, impressing her instructors as well as Ed Abraham, Local 88’s training director.

Ventura said she would encourage anyone — especially women — to jump into careers such as sheet metal.

That all had to be put on hold when she was called up as a reservist and found herself facing almost a year in the Middle East. Ventura joined the Air National Guard in 2007 and has served for the past 14 years, based out of March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California. For many in the National Reserves, a long deployment can mean the total uprooting of one’s life: cars are sold, leases terminated and jobs or schooling are put on hold indefinitely.

“There really wasn’t an end date because things can happen. For security purposes, you just don’t know — they don’t want people posting dates on social media and such,” Ventura said. “I was worried about not being able to finish my apprenticeship on time because I didn’t know how the situation was going to be handled.”

Following a conversation with Abraham, Ventura said she had real peace of mind. She was assured that her place was secure, and that the union would work with her as she served overseas and help smooth the transition when she returned. The contractor she had been working with in Las Vegas, Kamran Metalworks, was likewise accommodating. 

From November 2020 through September 2021, she was deployed to Riyadh Air Base in the capital of Saudi Arabia, helping support Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in her capacity as an HVAC-refrigeration technician. With the pandemic in full swing and vaccinations becoming available during that time, her work was vital in keeping COVID-19 vaccines at the ultra-cold temperatures required for early doses. Her duties also included maintaining boilers and air conditioning systems throughout the base and working with contingency equipment.

Abraham — or “Schoolhouse Ed,” as Ventura calls him — helped her navigate the regulations on how activated members of the National Guard or Reserves are handled within the union. Her membership was temporarily changed to a special limited membership, and dues were paid by the union during deployment. Abraham also made sure to reach out on a monthly basis while Ventura was deployed to check up on her.

“That meant a lot,” she recalled. “It made me feel very connected.”

Ventura said there were conversations among the many personnel on the base about jobs and future work, and during these talks she could not help but sing the praises of SMART and Local 88. “One of the guys . . . after hearing me talk about it, he started getting interested in trade work and researching it,” she said.

Now in her fourth year, Ventura looks forward to completing her sheet metal apprenticeship in July and hopes to work in either the service or architectural sides of the trade. Although she loves Las Vegas and the people she has met there, she knows a union education in sheet metal affords her the opportunity to go many places.

She also said she would encourage anyone — especially women — to jump into careers such as sheet metal.

“Don’t be afraid to try,” she said. “You won’t unlock your potential unless you take that first step. I’m so glad I did.”

Abraham agrees that women like Ventura make the trade stronger, and he was happy to help her get back up to speed so she can complete her apprenticeship as scheduled.

“She is doing amazing in the program,” he said. “Any company should be glad to have her on their team.”

In late July, third-year apprentices at SMART SM Local 12 (Southwestern Pennsylvania) had the opportunity to perform hands-on architectural sheet metal fabrication and installation. After separating into three sections – Group A, Group B and Group C – each group of apprentices was assigned a different application of architectural sheet metal, enhancing their day-to-day study with practical experience.

Group A’s task was to make improvements to the sheet metal shop at the Local 12 training center, which had a gypsum board wall that was damaged from a roof leak. The apprentices first had to safely remove the drywall, the wood substrate and the old, damaged insulation. Then, after cleaning the area, the apprentices sealed any openings and installed new insulation, new substrate on two-foot centers, a new metal water table, J-channel and corrugated metal panels, and window trims.

Meanwhile, the local tasked Groups B and C with a community service project at a local baseball/softball field. The concession stands at Scharmyn Park, the home of the West View Ross Athletic Association in Pittsburgh, Pa., required several upgrades. The wood siding needed painting. The wood ceiling had been removed and still lacked the necessary replacement. The gutters were in desperate need of improvement, and wood soffits needed to be covered.

In response, the Local 12 apprentices took to the work quickly and efficiently: They installed new metal trims, (J-channels, siding sill, fascia) and vertical siding panels that covered the old wood siding. They also mounted a corrugated metal ceiling onto rafters on two-foot centers and metal trims on three dugouts, plus corrugated metal roofing.

The project gave all three groups of apprentices firsthand training in the installation of architectural metal wall and roofing systems in real-life situations. The buildings were not as plumb, level and square as they would be in ideal circumstances – making them perfect examples of the conditions sheet metal workers run into in the field. Additionally, the apprentices had to build the scaffolding to access the work area, lay out the panel systems to develop symmetrical appearance, install the metal trims, cut the metal panels and cut in any penetrations that were in the way – all obstacles they are likely to face on future jobsites. The apprentices completed these tasks in a safe, effective manner, helping them develop on-the-job skills and give back to the community.

These experiences were made possible by the donation of metal siding and metal roofing panels by ATAS International, Inc. Local 12 elected to use these donated materials to help West View Ross Athletic Association with its concession stand, which was in dire need of attention. Local 12 also wishes to thank Miller, Thomas, Gyekis (trim fabricator), Pennsylvania Roofing Systems (trim fabricator), Business Manager Greg Blose, Apprentice Coordinator Joshua Moore, Instructors Mike Shields, Dan Lyons and John Naples, and Business Agents Geoff Foringer, Kevin Mally, Dan Maslo and Todd Deitrick for bringing this real-world learning event to life.