Eastern Technical High School senior Faith Apetoh is Monkey in the Metal’s first apprentice.

Author: Jacob Took

Last year was the best on record for Monkey in the Metal, a custom fabrication company based just off I-895 in east Baltimore. Nick Modha has been building up the business since 2012, when he moved his hobby from his garage to a bigger space. He pivoted to focus on Monkey in the Metal in 2016 after a career as an executive in finance and hospitality. His team weathered the pandemic, leaning more into multifamily fabrication after demand shifted away from office and co-op space. Now, he’s looking to scale up. One challenge, he says, is recruiting and cultivating talent, especially in a new generation.

“Probably zero kids in high school know what construction estimating is,” Nick jokes. Faith Apetoh, a senior at Baltimore County’s Eastern Technical High School who has been working with Monkey in the Metal since school started last fall, laughs. As Monkey in the Metal’s first-ever apprentice, however, Faith has learned all about construction estimating. Starting with a proposal drawing, she assesses and prices out the materials and labor needed to bring the design to life. “I want to be able to quote and submit bids without any outside assistance,” Faith says. “That’s my goal.”

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Faith has helped modernize Monkey in the Metal’s system for estimating, says founder Nick Modha.

Faith started as an intern, discovering Monkey in the Metal through an advisor at Eastern. She didn’t want to start at a big company, and values the freedom to focus on the work she’s more interested in, like estimating. Each order is different, and she relishes each new challenge. She’s also building base skills. “You can use spreadsheets for anything,” she says. “It was a little overwhelming at first, but I’ve found my place.”

As an apprentice, Faith works 20 hours a week (she’s a half-day student due to her academic achievement) and has supported the team on some hefty projects. Nick completes assessments to track her progress in developing professional skills (no worries there). He says that Faith has helped modernize Monkey in the Metal’s system for estimating, introducing and mastering new software to make the process more accurate and efficient.

Nick feels that the program encourages a robust learning experience and offers an entry point for potential new talent. That’s in addition to the financial resources available to businesses sponsoring apprenticeships, including $1,000 tax credits per apprentice, matching up to $4,500 of training costs per year per apprentice, and potentially up to $50,000 in grant funding for innovative apprentice solutions.

The Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program, administered by the state’s Department of Labor, supports more than 12,000 positions at about 4,000 businesses. Nick learned about the program by talking with other local business owners about finding talent. The application process starts with a phone call to an apprenticeship navigator at 410-767-2246. After working with a navigator to create a custom plan for Monkey in the Metal’s apprenticeship, Nick applied and was approved. “I thought I was the last one to the party,” he says. “I didn’t know we’d accomplished something.”

Nick encourages business owners considering their own apprenticeship program to start by getting in touch with an apprenticeship navigator. Becoming a registered apprenticeship sponsor is no small lift. Nick had to develop a curriculum and course of work detailing the professional skills an apprentice would gain at Monkey in the Metal. He acknowledges at least one leg up — the estimating software Faith started with already provided instructional videos for new users. “You have to be able to proceduralize the operations,” he says. “That will be your framework.” This ensures that future apprentices get a similar experience and develop similar skills. Nick plans to tap another Eastern student next year to continue cultivating that next generation of industry talent. And as Monkey in the Metal grows, who knows what could be in store?

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Nick wanted Monkey in the Metal to host an apprenticeship program to help cultivate a new generation of industry talent from young people like Faith.

For Faith, taking on the apprenticeship was a step up in her professional development. She has supported various aspects of different projects, working with the Monkey in the Metal team and external clients on initial designs through to fabrication and fulfillment of final products. She has been to and helped host trade shows, joined site visits and witnessed the entire life cycle of a product. It’s satisfying, she says, to see initial designs become physical, finished pieces. All that has helped her develop skills beyond just construction estimating. “I’ve paid attention to every part,” she says. “It’s good to be working toward something.”

Faith plans to study engineering at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and also hopes to continue working with Monkey in the Metal at least for this summer. A metal heart ornament which Faith led design, fabrication and fulfillment of during last year’s holiday season now hangs from her car’s rearview mirror. Nick hopes it can serve on Faith’s career journey as a reminder of her time as an apprentice, the skills she has learned and her impact at Monkey in the Metal.

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A metal heart ornament Faith designed now hangs in her car, a reminder of her work with Monkey in the Metal.