Heavy Metal Summer Experience

    Mechanical Contractors Teach Students Construction Basics in Growing Program

    March 3, 2023
    In this expanding program, students gain exposure to all aspects of construction, from BIM through fabrication and installation.
    An HVAC recruiting initiative now in its third year is making strides in its mission to promote trade career opportunities
    across the U.S. It's called The Heavy Metal Summer Experience. It was co-founded by Angie Simon, herself an HVAC professional who recently retired as CEO of Western Allied Mechanical, Union City, Calif. Simon serves as president of the event, but it is  a collaborative effort among mechanical contractors and SMACNA, with limitless potential.

    Angie Simon is a recent past-president of SMACNA (Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors National Association), and it was during her tenure as president that this initiative took flight.

    In 2021, Western Allied Mechanical and the Hermanson Company, Seattle, Washington, piloted a six-week-long
    summer career exploration camp with the intention of replicating the program across the United States.  From that first summer Heavy Metal Summer Experience (HMSE) was born into a Non-Profit 501(c)3 to help expand the program. The Heavy Metal Summer Experience. The name says it all: Metal, as in sheet metal (but there's more); Summer, as in a time to explore. And Experience, for how the program immerses students in learning about trade careers. Always with a focus on safety, students gain exposure to all aspects of construction from BIM through fabrication and installation. Sessions are taught by working craft professionals who are ready to share their career paths and
    advice. Corporate sponsors to date include DeWalt, Milwaukee Tool and Procore Construction Software.

    Simon was presented with the inaugural "Industry Advocate Award" at the 2023 MEP Innovation Conference for her efforts with the Heavy Metal Summer Experience. 

    And so, as "Women in Construction Week" begins on March 6, Angie spoke with us from Ventura, to provide the backstory of this program that's gaining support among manufacturers and contractors alike, and reaching more students each year.     


    Contracting Business: Angie, describe the origins of The Heavy Metal Summer Experience.

    Angie Simon: "In October of 2019, I had started as president of SMACNA national, and was traveling, and everyone I talked to agreed that workforce development and a lack of a future trade [employees] was a problem. In mid-2020, I was speaking with Zachary Russi, who is now the president of Western Allied Mechanical. His oldest son was 14 at the time. He loved working with his hands, and welding. We set him up with our shop superintendent to do some welding after school, so he could learn how to weld. He made some really cool stuff, and Zach said, 'I just wish we had this in schools again, like when I was a kid.' His son had a lot of friends who also love to work with their hands. I said we should run a summer camp in our shop in Menlo Park, a very underserved area.

    "I put a business plan together, presented it to my partners, with about a $30,000 cost to Western Allied. I thought it would be a
    great experience for us to work with high schoolers and teach them about the trades. To their credit, my partners said, 'absolutely, let's go for it.' 

    "I shared the idea at the SMACNA Edge Conference, which was virtual that year [due to COVID]. My peer group member, Hermanson Company, LLP in Seattle, and the Washington SMACNA group asked if they could do this as well. So we now had two contractors and a SMACNA branch working on it. 

    "Next, we started to hold [planning] calls, and decided to call it the Heavy Metal Summer Experience. Our superintendents started coming up with ideas for projects to do in the camp. There were sheet metal projects and a press fitting project for piping.

    "We started looking for kids to participate, and we were able to have two camps that summer. We had 16 at Western Allied, and Hermanson had 12."

    CB: Those initial enrollments also had some young women participants and sponsor support.

    AS: "Yes. Western Allied had six girls and at Hermanson, there were three. And out of Western Allied's 16 kids, 15 were Hispanic or Black, which was great. We set them up for Tuesday and Thursday, from 2:30 to 5:00, for six weeks. All received Red Wing boots, so the Red Wing boots truck showed up. We had raised money for the boots. Milwaukee Tool donated personal protective equipment, tool bags for each, with a drill and hand tools and t-shirts."

    CB: You then drafted a phenomenal plan for other contractors to follow.

    AS: "Hermanson and Western Allied put a playbook together. We wanted it to be easy for contractors to read through to see how we did it, with forms, how we established it, and projects. We started sharing the vision. Last summer, I had 11 camps across the United States and 170 kids. So we went from 28 kids to 170 and from two camps to 11. This summer we're probably at 25 confirmed camps and over 400 kids. It's more than we expected. I'm definitely not retired anymore."

    CB: Topics are expanding too.

    AS: "Contractors don't have to use our projects. They can use their own. At ACO they actually had ductwork fabrication and duct sealing. This year we're going to focus a little bit more on electrical. We really just want them to understand all the tools that we use and all the things they can do with their hands." 

    INTERESTED CONTRACTORS: Reach out to Angie Simon [email protected] to receive a hosting HMSE Playbook and  graphics, and to gain help getting connected with groups promoting workforce development in your area. The goal is to have 30 camps across the United States in Summer 2023!


    May 30-July 20, RF Knox, Atlanta.

    June 2-9, Hardy Corporation, Alabama.

    June 3-23, MMC Contractors, Omaha, Neb.

    June 12-July 21, Thomson Solutions Group, Iowa

    June 12-24, St. Louis SMACA

    June 12-30, Superior Duct Fabrication, Southern California

    June 13-July 28, Western Allied Mechanical, San Francisco, Calif.

    June 26-July 26, Dee Cramer, Michigan

    June 27-July 20, ACCO Engineered Systems, San Francisco, Calif.

    June 27-July 20, Hermanson Co., Washington

    July 10-21, Lancaster Group, Inc., Ontario, Canada

    TBD, Sacramento, Calif.

    July 11-August 17, JW Danforth, Buffalo, NY

    TBD: SMACNA Colorado, Denver

    July 18-20 SMACNA & MCA of Kansas City, Missouri

    July 24-28, JC Cannnistraro, Massachusetts