"I always liked fixing things. This is a good fit."
If you’re not in the construction field, you may have no idea what a sheet metal worker does, but their handiwork is all around in any public or industrial building you might happen to find yourself in. The roof above, rain gutters, architectural siding and ventilation ducts that keeping clean, temperate air flowing are cut, welded, installed and maintained by skilled sheet metal workers.
Brian Nock is proud to be one of them. A friend of his father introduced him to the trade, and upon graduating from Avonworth High School, about eight miles east of downtown Pittsburgh, he passed a written exam and interview to earn a spot in the joint apprenticeship program of Sheet Metal Worker Local 12 and its contractor association, SMACNA of Western PA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association).
“I always liked circuitry, fixing things; and I was pretty good at math,” he says. “It was a good fit.”
He attended classes for five weeks for each of the four years of the apprenticeship at the training facility in Harmar Township in northeastern Allegheny County. The rest of the time, he worked alongside journeypersons – professional – sheet metal workers, putting to work the skills and education that he gained in the classroom.
Base pay for first-year apprentices as of 2014 is $14.84 plus benefits, with raises coming with good performance in classes and on the job. At the end of the program, an apprentice becomes a journeyperson and a member of Local 12. Journeypersons pay typically starts around $33.00 with regular annual raises and overtime often available.
“The best thing about sheet metal work is that there are always different aspects: different projects, different buildings, unique layout and design aspects,” Brian says.
A project often begins with job coordination meetings among contractors and building foremen to study engineering drawings. “We go in and make sure we can do what they want us to do, change things that might need to be changed, adding or taking elements out as needed. You’re trouble-shooting problems, figuring out how to fix things, problem solving, basically.”
There are often two or three projects at any time needing a sheet metal worker’s attention, adding to the variety. “It’s nice that you get to do different things: some drawing days, some layout and planning days.” Brian frequently recommends younger men and women to his field, and teaches classes at the training center on the power circuitry that regulates and tests air that circulates through ventilation ducts that sheet metal workers forge and install.
He has worked on various signature structures across the region, including the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was one of the first environmentally friendly LEED-certified convention centers in the world, as well as renovations to U.S. Steel building for UPMC’s substantial presence there. “These days, 60 to 70 percent of my work is downtown. There’s so much growth and expansion, and an ongoing need for more office space. “
With livable wages and secure benefits, Brian has time and peace of mind to enjoy his free time. “I have a camp near Lake Pymatuning” in Crawford County, he said. Weekends are often spent there, boating, fishing and hunting for pheasants with his Labrador retrievers, Tobie and Riley.