Shortly after Custom Aire opened in 1978, our founding family, the Boettners, wanted to find a way to fill a need in the trade industry while investing in the future workforce.
Five years later, we launched our robust Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Program to provide hands-on training in sheet metal fabrication right in our own fab shop to anyone interested in pursuing a career in an essential trade while earning a paycheck.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the program and how it sets apprentices up for success in our profession.
Our four-year Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Program is approved by the United States Department of Labor and utilizes the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum for classroom instruction.
From day one, apprentices make money — instead of taking out student loans — while they learn from certified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals on our team who have over 150 years of combined experience in the field.
Clarke Molter, our Training and Safety Specialist at Custom Aire, says that many people thrive in the program while others discover sheet metal isn’t for them, and that’s okay. The important thing is that students are “willing to put in the work, to learn, and be teachable,” he says.
“We can’t teach desire. We have to feed desire,” Molter adds. “Sheet metal fabrication is not always an easy job. It can be quite physical. But as apprentices progress through the program, they can look back and see what they’ve done, and that’s why they come back the next day.”
Formal class instruction for our Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Program takes place monthly from September to May, with the remaining time spent working on the job and practicing the modules until apprentices master each level.
Because class sizes are small, students get one-on-one mentorship from our instructors as they learn both hypothetical and practical aspects of the occupation. There’s also flexibility in how and when modules are taught, which allows apprentices to master each lesson at their own pace while receiving extra guidance, if needed.
“The program is a structure without being structured,” Molter says. “Eventually those ‘aha’ moments will happen when apprentices can see a connection between what they are learning in the classroom and how it applies on the job site.”
As apprentices gain experience, they are given more responsibility to work on a variety of jobs alongside our journeymen, who assist the first- and second-year apprentices in mastering their techniques.
Will Anderson, a past HVAC installer apprentice who now works on our team as a journeyman, says people interested in learning the trade are “better off starting the apprenticeship than going to a trade school and then coming here, because you get paid to learn,” he says.
“With sheet metal, it is easier to see your progress at the end of the day and it gives you a sense of accomplishment,” Anderson adds.
Each apprentice is required by the Department of Labor to complete 8,000 hours (2,000 per year) of mastering each NCCER module to receive a Certificate of Completion of Apprentices and progress to Journeyman.
“We’re not expecting people to be experts by the time the four years are up, but at least they will have a solid foundation of knowledge on how to research the information they need and get to the next level in their career,” Molter says.
Anyone who is interested in the construction industry, likes to work with his or her hands, and has a desire to learn essential skills without accruing student debt is a great candidate for our Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Program.
Although our program usually runs during the academic year, we welcome applications year-round for our Grand Forks and Bismarck locations. No previous experience in sheet metal is necessary.