Sheet Metal graduate sees success in fabrication

Posted: December 02, 2015

A year after earning his Associate in Applied Science, Sheet Metal graduate Jerad Shirley thrives in the industry—both in experience and pay. But the pathway to success wasn’t easy.

When his mother told him about Bates Technical College as a high school student, he decided to give Running Start at the college a try. Without a clear educational direction, he bounced from program to program, eventually earning a certificate in Auto Parts/Inventory/Warehousing.

Post-graduation, he worked as a certified nursing assistant in an effort earn enough money to move out of his mother’s house, but Jerad knew he needed to switch his career course.

“My whole family worked as longshoremen, except my grandfather. He was a successful sheet metal worker,” he says. “I saw that he made a good living, and knew I could do the same. So, I decided to follow in my grandpa’s footsteps,” Jerad recalls.

Three years after high school, Jerad enrolled in the Sheet Metal program. Immediately, he knew he made the right choice.

“I really connected with instructor Steve MacKay, and I liked the way he taught.” he says. “Steve does a great job of preparing students for the work world. There’s a lot that you learn in the field, but the hands-on education I received in the program gave me an edge in the workplace,” says Jerad.

Taking advantage of the college foundation’s scholarships during his education helped him acquire the expensive tools apprentices need.

“I took advantage of what the foundation offered, and I was awarded the Henry T. Schatz scholarship. The money helped me so much. If it had to come out of pocket, it would have hurt me,” he says. “Because apprentices use their own tools, I was immediately better-prepared when I started work, because my toolbox was fully equipped. Where a lot of apprentices borrow tools, I had everything I needed in my tool bag,” explains Jerad.

Two weeks after Jerad’s 2014 graduation, he began working in the field.

Technically a second-year apprentice, Jerad earns third-year apprenticeship salary because of the program’s direct-entry relationship with Sheet Metal Workers Local 66. This means that when students graduate, the union starts them as year-two apprentices, starting at $23.28 per hour, as of 2015.

Now working at local company Crescent Sheet Metal, Inc., Jerad, along with other apprentices, rotates to new job sites every six months, which allows him to broaden his experience and learn from different job locations.

“I get a lot of variety—from working in the shop to hanging duct work. For a month and a half, I worked in Bates’ new building on 19th street in Tacoma, the Advanced Technology Center,” he says, adding that he has worked on a fire station in Bremerton, a fire station’s garage on the naval base, and another job in Olympia.

Working at different sites and with different people exposed him to a new aspect of sheet metal: computer-aided design, or CAD.

“My overall career vision is to achieve journeyman, and at that point, begin learning how to use CAD in my profession,” says Jerad.

CAD helps facilitate the drawing of duct systems, providing a higher-level detail of the job on which they are working. The Sheet Metal program collaborates with the Mechanical Engineering program in an effort to expose students to CAD in the fifth or sixth quarter of their education, explains instructor Steve MacKay.

Though Jerad will wait until he reaches fourth-year apprentice to jump into CAD classes, he is excited to learn more about his chosen craft. “I’m a detailer, so I want to thoroughly learn every aspect of the trade before I wait to venture into the world of CAD,” he says.

MacKay notes that it’s encouraging to see how far graduates like Jerad have come in such a short period. “The more skills and knowledge you have, the more valuable you are to a company and the further you’ll go. Jerad is a standout who is going in the right direction. He is well on his way to a long, successful career,” he concludes.