Local 18 (Milwaukee, Wis.) fourth-year apprentice Nicole Severson always knew she wanted to be part of a trade. Her father was a diesel mechanic, her brother a sheet metal worker, and her uncles worked as an elevator operator and a heavy equipment operator, respectively – giving her a thorough knowledge of the trades from a young age. Now, she’s making her family and her union proud as the latest SMART winner of the NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes award.

“As her employer has noted, Nicole is a huge asset to [her] team,” Local 18 wrote when nominating Severson for the award. “She is extremely detailed, has a great attitude, and is always willing to give a helping hand.”

Despite her family background, Severson took an uncircuitous route to the unionized sheet metal trade. She initially worked in the finance world, completing an apprentice program in high school and spending 15 years working in various finance positions. At that point, though, she began to feel she had achieved all she could in that sphere; she reached out to her brother and began working as a dispatcher with a contracting firm.

“This opportunity gave her great insight into plumbing, electrical and HVAC,” said the NABTU press release announcing Severson’s award. “Her work on a daily basis with the commercial HVAC service technicians made her realize the diverse skill set of a service technician was what she was looking for in a career.”

Now, four years into her new vocation, Severson has proven herself to be a skilled, reliable and tenacious worker.

“Nicole is always looking for ways to improve her skillset through new challenges and asking questions,” Local 18 added. “Unlike some apprentices, Nicole is never intimidated by the equipment. Her background as a dispatcher has really helped us as an organization improve communication between the field and the office.”

SMART congratulates Nicole on this well-earned recognition!

Fourth-year SMART Local 18 apprentice Angela Poore received the September North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) Tradeswomen Heroes award – a recognition of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin sheet metal worker’s perseverance, skill and dedication to her craft.

“She is hard-working, shows up on time and soaks things up like a sponge,” the Local 18 Milwaukee Joint Apprenticeship Committee said when nominating Angela for the award. “Angela…exemplifies a great employee.”

Angela’s journey to the unionized sheet metal industry was an unorthodox one. Born and raised on military bases, Angela and her family spent 11 years driving from state to state, including Kansas, Alaska and Texas – finding adventure on cross-country odysseys. After settling in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Angela eventually moved out of her family home at 17 years old, working at two chiropractic offices for 15 years and starting her own cleaning business.

Like many workers in 21st century America, though, an economy devoted less to working families and more to Wall Street made economic stability hard to find, and while researching other career options, Angela was introduced to sheet metal by her stepfather, a Local 18 business agent. She spent some time honing her math skills, then signed up as a pre-apprentice at 34 years old.

“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela.”

“It’s very intimidating being a female going into a ‘Man’s World,’ but I realized that the guys I was working with were like anyone else at a job,” Angela said. “They taught me so much, they showed me the wrong and right ways of doing things.”

Having spent all four years of her apprenticeship at JM Brennan Co., Angela has been able to experience the camaraderie of working in a union shop – and she’s taken advantage of every mentorship and learning opportunity that has come her way.

“The best part, so far, is working with so many different foremen/journeyen and learning their ways of doing things,” she noted. “It helps you find what way works best for you. I cannot wait to become a journeyperson or a foreman and see where this road takes me.”

The Local 18 Joint Apprenticeship Committee clearly feels the same way.

“Angela is always willing to take on new challenges,” the committee wrote in Angela’s nomination. “When Angela’s employer challenged the employees to differentiate themselves from others, she was the only one who approached her superintendent seeking guidance on improving her welding skills. Angela had always shown signs of success as a welder, but with this challenge took the opportunity to really focus and hone those skills.’

“We would be lucky to have more apprentices, and future journeyworkers, like Angela,” the committee concluded. Congratulations, sister!

In early June, SMART Local 16 (Portland, Ore.) journey-worker Lisa Davis was named one of the winners of the June NABTU Tradeswomen Heroes Award, which “honors two apprentices and two journey-level workers in the United States and Canada that set an exemplary example both on and off the jobsite.”

“Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for SMART International Training Institute [ITI],” read the press release announcing Lisa’s win. “Sister Davis’s passion for moving the industry’s direction to increase safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards in the workplace is nothing short of what she has been able to accomplish to reach those goals.”

In 2005, Lisa graduated from the University of California, Davis, solely committed to one goal: becoming a surgeon. Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Lisa moved to Oregon to attend Oregon Health and Science University — but she soon realized a life in medicine wasn’t her calling.

Sister Davis is leading the industry as the first female HVACR Education Specialist for the International Training Institute.

The next three years found Lisa exploring what that calling might be. She worked as a barista, in an operating room and on a farm in Hawaii. After those disparate and exciting experiences, though, it was ultimately something much simpler — a job working as a mechanic in a bowling alley — that changed her life. It was there that she realized working with her hands with mechanical tools, rather than a scalpel, was her ticket to happiness.

Following that epiphany, Lisa sought out Oregon Tradeswomen and completed the organization’s training before she was accepted into the apprenticeship at Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 in Portland. There she completed a building trades apprenticeship and service program. A passionate advocate for education, recruitment, retention and diversity, Lisa worked her way up to become Local 16’s first female instructor. She also helped form a diversity committee and served on the ground floor of the local’s mentoring program, both of which continue to this day.

In 2019, Lisa furthered her role as a mentor by joining the ITI as a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) service and testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) specialist. She also serves on SMART’s International Women’s Committee, where she helped craft resolutions and amendments leading up to the union’s 2019 national convention.

“Sister Davis continues to elevate all members by devoting her extra time to actively working with her peers to create and implement DEI and safety language within government laws, initiating mentoring programs, training and educating members, and simply ’Doing the Right Thing,’” the press release concluded. “[Her] commitment, dedication, and hard work have proven that opportunity is a viable pathway for members to reach their fullest potential. Sister Davis is a true HERO for all members of SMART.”

Samara Sampson is an apprentice at Local 285 in Toronto, Ont. who has been in the trade for five years. The SMART Women’s Committee sat down with Samara to learn more about her and the work she does. You can visit www.SMART-Women.org to read her story and the stories of her fellow sisters.

What unique strengths do you bring to your trade?

I am a forward thinker and good at working under pressure.

What do you love to do when you’re not at work?

When I am not at work, I love packing a day bag, some food, and my dog into my truck and driving out to a new conservation area to explore.

Goals in the future — any ambitions or changes to your career, growth or education?

I have big dreams and goals for myself with SMART, and I look forward to a very long, prosperous career wherever it might take me.

What surprised you about your trade?

How much you can do in the trade: you can design, fabricate, weld, install, test, etc.

What do you find frustrating about your job/trade?

The most frustrating part about my job has got to be a tie between running out of material and unsolicited spectators.

What’s the coolest job you’ve worked on?

I worked on a huge mansion, complete with a theater, billiard room, huge hanger garage and — best of all — the lift in the driveway that takes the vehicles down to the underground garage.

What traits do you think a good sheet metal worker has?

I think a good sheet metal worker is reliable, efficient, good at math and ready to work.

Why sheet metal?

Metal work and welding has always been an interest of mine, and after taking the welding program in college, Local 285 made me see how much opportunity and growth there is within the union.

Tool you can’t live without?

The tool I can’t live without has got to be my hands, for sure.

Best advice you got as an apprentice?

The best advice I’ve gotten as an apprentice is to “get good first, get fast second.” This is also advice I would give to new apprentices.

What are your thoughts about Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN)?

I think that TWBN is a great opportunity for tradeswomen to meet each other. We are often the only one in the classroom as an apprentice and the only one on the jobsite. Any opportunity to meet and network is truly awesome. Unfortunately, due to COVID I have only taken part virtually, but I can’t wait to be a part of the next TWBN in person. I will be there!

Career fairs, SMART Army, volunteering?

I am involved with a provincial tradeswomen committee, and I lead a group of tradeswomen in a Lean In Circle. Any opportunity I have to meet other tradeswomen, especially SMART women, I will take it!