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Apprentices offer lessons of hope

Recently I visited the Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 206 and had the opportunity to tour and learn about their apprenticeship program in Mission Valley.

Until this visit, I’m not sure I had ever given much thought to the actual job of a sheet metal worker. Their work is vital, but largely unseen to many of us. Sheet metal workers are part of the building and construction trades. These skilled craftspersons layout, fabricate and assemble sheet metal products to be installed in buildings and construction projects. Their specialized products are used in various duct and ventilation systems, including heating and air conditioning, but they also fabricate and install metal roofs, kitchen equipment, blowpipe systems, conveyors, chutes and hoppers.

In a more famous example of sheet metal work, members of Local 206 built structural reinforcements for the Spirit of St. Louis - the plane Charles Lindbergh used to make the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris in May 1927.

Being the daughter of a coal miner and construction worker, I personally know the value and pride in the work that helps build our communities. I saw it every day as my father trudged home from the lead mines in Austinville, Va., or from a construction job. He helped build the federal building in downtown Roanoke, Va., where I grew up. And there isn't a time when we drive across the New River Bridge near Radford, Va., that one of us in the family doesn't say out loud - "Dad helped build this bridge." He always took pride in his workmanship and in a job well done.

I saw the same pride in the faces of the young apprentices I met at Local 206 who were young, eager, and willing to share their craft with me. And as I spoke with several leaders of their organization, I realized they are doing something we often forget to do in this down economy - focusing on a bright future for San Diego and California.

Some Local 206 apprentices have not been able to find jobs yet, but they are continuing their education and mastering their trade. As the economy rebounds and building begins again in earnest, they will be poised to step into good-paying jobs with decent health benefits and pensions.

We can all learn a lesson from these bright young people who will drive the engine of California’s economy in the future. California is still “The Golden State” - an amazing place with a gross domestic product that ranks it higher than many countries in the world. We are a bastion of creativity and ideas that puts us in the forefront of many industries. San Diego is its own microcosm of this ideal where the military, manufacturing, tourism and biotechnology sectors pump billions of dollars into our local economy.

Watching President Obama’s first State of the Union address, during these challenging times in our history, reminded me of the reasons I’m running for State Assembly. He told us he’s not a quitter and he’s not giving up on his priorities. I feel the same way about San Diego and my bid for the Assembly.

I’ll stay focused on helping to put our citizens back to work, like the apprentices I met. I’ll work to get us through the tough times, so we’re ready for the good ones. There are better times ahead and we cannot give up on the values we hold dear, like health care, environmental protection and education. We can and will rebuild. There are hundreds of thousands of Californians willing to help us. Just ask the sheet metal apprentices.