Summer Of Skills: The Heavy Metal Experience And The Future Of The Building Trades | Ep. 241

COGE 241 | Heavy Metal Summer Experience

 

Within the construction industry lies a vast realm of untapped opportunities, awaiting those who dare to venture beyond the familiar. Get ready to rock out in this exhilarating episode! Come explore with us the universe of heavy metal – not the music, but a thrilling project that is transforming the construction industry and shifting our perception of it. Our guest Angie Simon, co-founder and president of Heavy Metal Summer Experience, shares the inspiring story of how this revolutionary summer camp has achieved unprecedented levels of success. The Heavy Metal Summer Experience provides high school youth with a transformative opportunity to explore the limitless potential within the trades. It’s a gateway for talented, hardworking individuals who may not be college-bound, yet yearn to build a remarkable future in the construction industry. Angie reveals the origins of the Heavy Metal Summer Experience and unveils the intricacies of its structure. Furthermore, she elaborates on how various segments of the construction industry, ranging from subcontractors to general contractors, can incorporate the Heavy Metal approach to entice prospective individuals to join the field. Tune in now and discover the path to trades!

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Summer Of Skills: The Heavy Metal Experience And The Future Of The Building Trades

Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Pantera, and Slipknot are all heavy metal bands. We are going to be talking about heavy metal but not heavy metal music. We are going to be talking about the Heavy Metal Summer Experience with my guest, Angie Simon. She is the Cofounder and President of the Heavy Metal Summer Experience, a summer camp for high school youth to teach them about the amazing opportunities they have in the trades.

She is the immediate past President of SMACNA and a former CEO of Western Allied Mechanical. Her passion project is the Heavy Metal Summer Experience. It is growing throughout the United States as a doorway into the trades for young men and women who may not be college-bound but are talented and hardworking and want to get into the construction industry as a means of securing a tremendous future.

She dives into how the Heavy Metal Summer Experience came to be, its structure, and how other industries in the construction trades, other different subcontracting trades, and even general contractors could take this model of the Heavy Metal Summer Experience and use it to attract people into construction. Share this conversation with other people, and make sure you connect with Angie on her website. Thank you for reading.

Angie, welcome back to the show.

Thank you, Eric. I appreciate being here.

It is my pleasure. We are going to talk about the Heavy Metal Summer Experience. It is all things workforce development. Please tell us all about the Heavy Metal Summer Experience.

Let me pull back a couple of years. I was at Western Allied and was working. It was 2020 during the pandemic. My partner and I were talking about his older son, who at the time was fourteen. He predicted that he wasn’t interested in college and school wasn’t his thing. This young man started taking some art classes in the shop in 2019 in a welding shop in Oakland and loved welding.

In 2020, during the pandemic, my partner set up this young man to take some welding from our shop superintendent. My shop superintendent said, “He is a better welder than most of my guys at fourteen. It was impressive.” My partner and I started talking about the fact that there are many kids out there that don’t know what they can get in the construction industry and what a great career a job in the trades is.

I mentioned it because we were located in Menlo Park in California, which is next to East Palo Alto, which is an underserved area for the Bay Area. I said to my partner, “How do we run a summer camp?” He said, “Why don’t you propose it?” I wrote up a business plan. I presented it to my partners at Western Allied. I said, “It is going to cost us some time and some money the first summer, but we should run a summer camp to teach the East Palo Alto kids about what a career they can get in the trades. To do that, we need to have them do sheet metal, do piping, and learn about the trades.” My partners, to their credit, said, “Yes, let’s do it.

I started making a plan. We had a virtual convention for SMACNA that year. I shared that idea on a workforce development round table. My peer group member up in Seattle in Hermanson called me up as soon as the round table was over and said, “Can we join you? Can we run a camp?” The two contractors teamed up that next fall and spring to come up with the camp to develop the projects that we were going to do.

We came up with the name Heavy Metal Summer Experience, which we thought was fun. I had 16 kids, and he had 12 kids up in Seattle. What was exciting for me was we had 6 girls and 15 of the 16 kids were minorities in our camp. He had 4 girls out of his 12, and he had a lot of minorities. The camps were successful. The kids and my employees loved it. Rick Hermanson, his team, and my team put together a playbook when the camps were done. It is a playbook that we wanted to share. We wanted to tell everybody about how you could do this type of thing.

At the time, I was still the National President for SMACNA. I started sharing that vision partially because everywhere I had been, everybody talked about, “We are not going to have enough people in our trades.” They say, “Forty percent of the trades in the next several years are going to retire. We are already short people now.”

COGE 241 | Heavy Metal Summer Experience
Heavy Metal Summer Experience: Everybody says we are not going to have enough people in our trades.

 

By sharing that message and playbook, last summer of 2022, we had 11 locations in the United States and 170 kids. This summer 2023, we have 22 locations and 400 kids. We are across the United States, and we have one in Canada. We are growing fast. We have some major supporters, Milwaukee tool, DeWalt tool, Procore, Train, and Mastec Machinery. We got some great sponsors that are helping us with this.

Tell us why you think something like the Heavy Metal Summer Experience is necessary for the construction trades.

Partially because we don’t have shops in schools much anymore. There are some shops in schools, where you get a wood shop or auto shop, but very little anymore. Construction has a reputation. People don’t realize what a great career you could get in it. People think about it as the old construction thing where you are going to be working in a ditch and the rain. Construction is modern compared to now. There is so much technology involved in construction.

Part of this is they don’t understand the opportunity. What we have found is the average age of an apprentice entering our apprenticeship for the sheet metal union nationally is 26 and a half years old. Kids get out of high school, and they roam around for a while. We also ask, “How did you hear about it?” It is all word of mouth.

Construction, not in all areas, but in a lot of areas, is a White male industry. Word of mouth is what you generally share with your friends, which in a lot of situations, are White males. We think we need to get into the more underserved and diverse areas trying to make our construction industry look a little bit more like the cities we live in and share that idea.

I found from my camps that we have had at Western Allied that the kids and the parents both say, “We had no idea that this opportunity was available.” They could work and get paid while they are doing an apprenticeship, and they don’t have to spend money for the apprenticeship. It is a free apprenticeship if they are working for somebody. The parents are like, “This is something we never had any idea.” Within five years, they are a full journeyperson, and they are making, in our area, over six figures at that point. Part of it is our construction industry needs to get messaged about what a great industry it is and what careers you can get.

In the Heavy Metal Summer Experience, are they getting paid to come? How did you structure it so that it was driving home the idea of coming and joining the industry? Give us a little more on that.

We are open to having people run the camp what would be best for their company or training centers. My camp was typically Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 5:00 for 6 or 7 weeks. In 2023, we are doing seven weeks because we are pit pulling in electrical and service, but there is no cost to the kids to come to the camp.

When they get to the camp, Heavy Metal raise money to provide them with Red Wing boots. They get a set of boots. They get PPE that Milwaukee and DeWalt help us with. They get their glasses, gloves, and vests. They get T-shirts that we provide them. At the end of the camp, they walk away with a bag of tools. Milwaukee and DeWalt have become great partners.

They each gave me a couple of hundred bags of tools. That includes hand tools, tape measure levels, screwdrivers, a drill, a battery, and a charger. The kids do walk away with an awful lot. It is about a 30-hour camp. We push that they have to attend. They can’t get their tools when they walk away at the end or their boots if they don’t attend enough camps.

There might be some camps that have some supplements for them, depending on the people you are working with. It is a summer camp that is free to them. It teaches them a little bit about where they could go. We are trying to encourage 16, 17, 18, and even 19-year-olds after they have graduated to attend the camp because, at that point, we can help them navigate how to apply for the unions, get into the trades, and help them. We have hired a bunch of our campers. They have been either pre-apprentices, and they work their way into apprenticeship.

During our first summer up in Seattle at that camp, there was a young woman at our camp. She was one of the top kids in the camp. She was interested. She was motivated. Her mom pulled Jana aside at graduation and said, “Can I talk to you? I’m a housekeeper, and my husband is a framer. In the last semester of my daughter’s senior year in high school, she got depressed.”

The mom started crying. She was in a dark place. She was like, “I lost my daughter. When she got into your camp several weeks later, I got my daughter back. She loves what she is doing.” Hermanson hired that young woman. She was a pre-apprentice for eight months and got into the apprenticeship. She is now years into the apprenticeship and loving what she is doing. She is an excellent worker. She is excited about being a sheet metal worker.

One of the fundamental things about the construction industry that speaks to the human desire to do something of purpose is that you can see what you are doing before you. You can see the contribution that you are making to a structure and the benefit of other people. It is interesting that you share that story because a lot of young people struggle with a sense of purposelessness or a lack of direction. IT’S giving them that opportunity to say, “Here is a career that you could build over a long period of time.” That is a tremendous thing.

That is one thing I loved about the construction industry from day one. I would love to drive by a building and say, “I helped build that building.” It is great to be able to say, “I have participated in that.” These kids in the camp make a toolbox, lamp, and picture frame. Some of these are out of pipe and sheet metal. We made a dustpan. In 2023, we are making a rose. They get to take all these projects home, display them, and share them with their families. We encourage those that are juniors going into seniors to tell their friends about this and share the message.

Another story would be that, in my first summer, we had six kids that had graduated high school from my camp. One was not interested. The other five were interested. One of them got into the pre-apprenticeship, but the other four didn’t have driver’s licenses. The union requires them to have a driver’s license.

We have been working with a nonprofit in East Palo Alto called Live In Peace. They said, “We will help them get driver’s licenses.” It took them close to a year to get their driver’s license. By that time, most of them did. They had applied for the unions. They had passed the test. They were now going to be in the interview process. They called us and said, “Can we do mock interviews at your shop?” because they are nervous about the interviews. Three of the kids wanted to do interviews. The three of them showed up. We had five kids show up. I asked the other two, “Who are you?”

One of them was the older brother of one of the kids that showed up. He said, “My brother told me about the camp. I took the test to pass. I want to work there instead of Lowe’s.” The other one was a friend. He had been told by his buddy about it. The whole word-of-mouth thing works because I got them in a diverse underserved area. They are telling the story about it. All of a sudden, we are getting more of the kids that look like them into our trades, which is a good thing. The more diverse we are in our trades, the better we are going to be in the future.

The more diverse we are in our trades, the better we're going to be actually in the future. Share on X

You had the first summer camps in 2021. We are in 2023. We are in the third year now. What have you learned over that time? What adjustments and changes have you made? What pitfalls did you dive into that you are saying, “I’m not going to go that way again?”

We have been flexible because some of the camps have been run in our joint apprentice training centers across the nation. For example, in LA, we ran a camp last summer of 2022, and he is running it again in the summer of 2023 in the union training center. He has a week off between apprenticeships. He is running a full-week camp in that training center.

We are flexible to say, “If you want to run a full-week camp, we have folks running it for a two-week camp, and they are doing it half days for two weeks.” I’m trying to stress to them that maybe around 30 hours would be beneficial. We have learned that the kids love fire. They love soldering and welding. They all want to learn how to weld. We had to incorporate a little bit more of that in the camps because we want them to learn about that.

In the first summer, we were a little nervous about welding. We figured out how to make it safe with the kids. We also have learned that we feel like we should show them all three MEP trades, HVAC, piping, and electrical. We are starting to tie electricians into some of the camps. There are three of our camps, Hermanson, myself, and Silicon Valley Mechanical, who are all bringing electricians for a camp for 1 day or 2 and working on an electrical project.

We are presenting at the NECA equivalent to SMACNA of the union side of the electricians. We are going to be at their convention with a booth talking about Heavy Metal Summer Experience. We have a whole section in the playbook of lessons learned. Pluses and minuses of things that we could do better. Getting the kid’s permission slips can be a challenge, and making sure they sign media releases is all the parents do.

I hope you are enjoying my conversation with Angie. Quick break to talk about my book Construction Genius. No manscape, no super juices, no vitamins, nothing like that here on Construction Genius, just solid, simple, practical, effective, no BS leadership strategy, sales, and marketing advice for construction companies.

Construction Genius is a great book. You should read it. You should buy it for everyone in your company. When you do, you will see an immediate change in the quality of your leadership because the book will teach people how to be better leaders. Go out to Amazon, get yourself a copy, and get copies for your leadership team. You will see a benefit. Back to our conversation with Angie.

Let’s say a company wants to do something like this. Would you recommend dedicating one person to it? How would you go about the logistics of it?

We need to have a point person that has a passion for and wants to be the one organizer. That doesn’t mean that person has to be the person teaching the kids, but they need to be the organizer. They need to figure out to make sure that we have all of them in a row. We call the playbook art easy button. We try to make it easy. We have the forms that you might need. We have JHAs and hot work permits that we have samples of. We have sample applications for the kids. We have sample permission slips. We try to make it as easy as possible. We even have sample schedules and everything else, but one person has to be the lead and the point.

My recommendation is that person puts a small team together within their company. A team with 1 or 2 of the instructors that might be the ones helping on the projects, 1 or 2 of the people that will help with logistics of volunteering. At our company, we break the camp into two groups. We send 8 to sheet metal and 8 to piping. We have 2 union instructors in sheet metal and 2 in piping.

We also ask for volunteers from our project managers, engineers, and project execs. We have no problem filling that in because they love to volunteer and watch the kids participate in this camp. We typically would have eight kids in sheet metal. We have 2 instructors and 2 volunteers. We have 1 adult to every 2 kids. We have an extra person roaming around.

I have found that it is beneficial for my employees. The employees love giving back, particularly the 20s, 30s, and 30-somethings. I tell the story that there was a senior project manager that had moved from Boston back to the Bay Area. He had an interview with four of us larger companies. He came to me and said, “All my offers are similar, but I picked Western Allied because you run that camp, and that is important for the future of our industry.”

You got a bunch of young people. Young people can get crazy sometimes. Have you guys experienced any of that, or the types of people you are attracting are conscientious, and they are there to work? How have you handled that stuff?

I have been lucky at Western Allied. We work with this nonprofit called Live In Peace. I asked Live In Peace to send a rep to every camp. In case we had a meltdown or controversy, she would be the one handling it. Hermanson works with the school district. Oftentimes, the school district sends somebody to the camp. Usually, that point person is the person that is there. It does take a little bit of work to get them focused, but I will say that they get into the routine quickly.

We do stress safety a lot. The first camp for sure, and in every camp, we stress it. They have to wear jeans, and they got to tie their hair back. They seem to get the message well. We also let them know what a great career, how much money they could make, and everything else in the industry. If they want to get that toolbox and their boots to take home, they need to finish this camp and pay attention.

We had one camper that had to leave partway through the camp. Her parents don’t speak any English, and her mom has been having health issues. She had to start going with her mom to all the doctor appointments. We told her she could come back to the next camp if she wanted to, but other than that, we had great attendance. The kids want to stay.

Let’s say you are comparing concrete work with MEP trades. If I’m doing concrete, I’m going to be out on a pour, and it is going to be hot. It is extremely physically demanding work in many cases if I’m on the rod or with a crew there. How would you recommend a construction company in those trades pitch constructions to younger people looking at concrete work or underground work and saying, “I don’t know about that?”

I walked our camp last summer 2022 with a local Bay Area concrete underground guy because he was interested in this. He said, “This might be a great way to get some kids.” I said, “In my mind, you can’t follow my playbook exactly because ours is aimed at mechanical and MEP, but the whole idea could be the same.”

I said, “For example, you bring the kids in, you give them an introduction, you teach them about how to lay out, teach them the 3D side or the computer side where you lay out what you are going to pour, you calculate how much concrete you need, you show them how to order the concrete, and how to set up all the purchasing. Find an underserved home that needs a new driveway. That could be their project for the summer. They could order everything. They could design it. They frame it and pour it. It would be a great example to show them how to do it.”

The technology in construction is changing the look of construction in all avenues, carpentry, and concrete. I know you still need to dig a hole, but we have tools now that do a lot of that and help us with that. That is the part that we need to get the message across to the kids. Procore is one of my partners for Heavy Metal, and they gave us this cool link to an app where the kids can go on their phones and go to a 3D building. Through their phone, they can walk through the 3D building. They have a scavenger hunt. They have to find things to answer for the scavenger hunt. It is a great way for them to see that, “I could be on the computer. I got this modeling.” That’s part of our construction industry. It is not the construction industry we were several years ago.

Technology today is changing the look of construction in all avenues. Share on X

What has your experience of the different locations been in terms of working with the school districts? Have they been receptive? Has there been any resistance there? Tell us about that a little bit.

One of the biggest challenges the first year you run a camp is finding an avenue to find the kids and how you get the message out to the kids. What we found is once they do it one camp, at that point, it is easy because the word gets around. We work with the CTE, the Career Technical Education portion of the high schools. Some areas have a lot more interest in that than others.

For example, we are running a camp in Sacramento this summer of 2023. Cheryl in Sacramento SMACNA said she got a lot of applications. She had no problem with getting enough applications. She talked to the school district. They were helpful with that. Some areas are a little less. They have to work a little harder to present to the schools.

I have also encouraged them to work with nonprofits because of the Boys and Girls Club, and I found this Live In Peace, but a lot of the nonprofits are there to help the kids find their way. That is what we are trying to do. The nonprofits are aware that not everybody is meant for college. They need to have other opportunities.

COGE 241 | Heavy Metal Summer Experience
Heavy Metal Summer Experience: The nonprofits are very aware that not everybody is meant for college and that they need to have other opportunities.

 

Down in Southern California in the Pomona area, we ran a camp last summer of 2022 for the first time at Superior Duct Fabrication. The Superintendent of Schools for La Verne, her daughter was in the camp. They had three kids from that school district in the camp. The counselor from that school district said, “These kids are raving about this. My superintendent of schools was raving about this. I need to get more kids in this camp.” This summer of 2023, they have twelve kids from that school in the camp.

She is a high school counselor. She convinced the school district to allow her to be the counselor for alternate careers, which I was thrilled about because most of the time, you hear that counselors are trying to push kids to college, but she wants to be the counselor for alternate careers. She is looking for all the alternate careers that kids can get into that do not include going to college.

I don’t know if you have heard it up here in Sacramento. Their first year of the Capital College & Career Academy is happening. That is a school that has been supported by a number of construction companies up here. The whole idea of it is to give people an opportunity to get a pathway into the trades through a high school curriculum.

For years, we have been pushing on the legislative side to get more career tech back into schools. We wouldn’t maybe have to run these camps if we had a lot more career tech in the schools all over the nation. I’m on a couple of engineering advisory boards. I’m on the dean’s advisory board at Cal Poly for the School of Engineering because that is where I went.

I’m passionate about college for the people that want to go to college and are meant to. What we found out is a third of the kids that graduated high school go to college. Only 22% of those go to four-year college. Two-thirds of the kids graduating high school aren’t going to college. You need to message those 2/3 of the kids and say, “If you want a great career, here is one where you can do it.

There is so much opportunity there and talent that we haven’t tapped into. It is tremendous how this Heavy Metal Summer Experience can help to be that conduit into the industry for people who are talented and people who are interested. What are the long-term goals for the Heavy Metal Summer Experience?

It is a little overwhelming where we are going already. I did not anticipate this. I retired from Western Allied. I thought I was going to retire, but now I’m practically full-time trying to run this program with a few partners. Until we don’t have a problem with workforce development, the idea of asking contractors and training centers to have some skin in the game and to put on these camps is something that should continue to happen.

I anticipate my goal. I already got probably close to 50 camps interested or hosts interested for next summer, which probably would take us to about 800 kids. We are working on scaling up and trying to figure that out. I would also be happy to share the idea with steel or carpentry. That might not come through Heavy Metal.

We raise the money for the boots, and we work with our partners. A lot of our trade partners, such as my sponsors, understand that we need to get people into our trades to continue construction. It has been great that we get that support, and now we need to continue to do that. We need to continue to work to get right up some grants and get some money to help with all that. To go from 400 kids to 800 kids would be a lot of toolboxes.

If someone is going to start something like this in their industry, give us your top three tips or words of advice as we get started.

Look at our playbook to come up with an idea of the sequence of what you have to do to be able to envision the camp. You can’t just tell kids about it. You can’t have a half-day camp that shows them what to do. They need to put some time into it. That is where they fall in love with it when they get here. Anywhere between 20 and 30 hours of summer camp would be ideal for teaching a kid about that.

Do a lot of planning. Come up with the projects ahead of time. My group tested the projects. They made the project themselves to see how long it would take. One of them brought their daughter in to help him make the project to see how long it would take her to make it. You have to have an idea of how long the projects take to do and try to make them fun.

We make a big deal about graduation. In our graduation, we make it a company function. We have 150 people attending their graduation. We have big food and ice cream trucks. They get all kinds of great certificates. That is where they show their projects. We need to make them aware that what they achieved is a great thing.

You are doing 20 to 30 hours. Have you found that is the optimal amount of time?

I feel 30 hours is ideal, but the optimal would be 25 to 35 hours.

That is over a two-week period.

It could be one full week if you go full-time. I got camps that are doing 3 days a week now for 4 weeks. That is about 30 hours. We are doing 2 days a week for 7 weeks. We expanded ours a little bit. We are going to be a few more hours than that. We wanted to add a little welding. Somewhere between 25 and 35 hours would be ideal.

What is the best way for folks to get in touch with you if they want to have a further conversation about this?

We have a website. We are an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Our website is www.HSME.org. I got an email on that website. You can email me. On our website, we have two great videos we did from the first year and the second year. They are fun to watch. You get an idea of how excited the kids were and the teachers, too, because those that volunteer and teach, at the end of the camp, are like, “This was great to see the kids’ eyes.”

One of the keys right there is that you will spark in your people by doing something like this, that genuine appreciation and love for these kids, and give your own people a return by giving back in that particular way.

We are finding that a lot of the union sheet metal and pipefitters that are retired are hearing about it, and they say, “Can I come and be an instructor?” It is something that people are excited about doing. Once they are there, they enjoy it. It is a benefit for the companies as well. It is exciting. We started a few camps. A bunch of them are starting too. I have already gotten some emails from brand new camps that started and said, “This is great. It is so much fun.” I know how much work it is, but it is great to see them be excited about hosting the camps.

Angie, I appreciate your time. Thank you for coming on and talking about the Heavy Metal Summer Experience. I wish you all the best.

I appreciate you helping me advertise it.

Thank you for reading my conversation with Angie. Feel free to surf the website HMSE.org to check out the Heavy Metal Summer Experience and watch those videos of the kids having a great time. Feel free to reach out to [email protected]. She is generous with her time. She would be happy to give you a breakdown of what they have done to build the Heavy Metal Summer Experience and how you might take that playbook and use it in your industry in your location to attract talent into the construction industry. Thank you for reading.

 

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