Metallica Scholars

The Metallica Scholars program is helping fund skilled trade learning, and you can help

Photo above by Mason Anthony.

Educators in the Pittsburgh area know that community college training in skilled trades can be a powerful path to success for thousands of teens in our region.

It seems the band Metallica agrees.

Metallica chose Pittsburgh as the last stop on their summer world tour this year, and they invited special guests to join them at that final show: a group of Metallica Scholars students currently attending community college to study trades in our region with help from the band’s All Within My Hands charitable foundation.

Metallica Scholars
Conner Walker and Jeremy Harrison discussing the experience of being part of Metallica Scholars while watching pre-show prep for the Pittsburgh concert. Photo by Mason Anthony.

Launched in 2019, Metallica Scholars is a workforce education initiative that helps support community college programming for students looking to enter a skilled trade or pursue other applied learning. They currently help fund programs at 32 schools around the country, including WVU Parkersburg and Clark State College.

“The band has always given back on tour,” says Renee Richardson, director of philanthropy at All Within My Hands. Metallica began by quietly donating catered food to local food pantries in each city they passed through and also pitching in with relief funds when natural disasters like wildfires affected communities around the country.

But it was guitarist and band co-founder James Hetfield who suggested that Metallica could begin helping to fund skilled trade programs. With kids of his own who were approaching college age, he was aware of the focus on STEM learning and four-year degrees. But Hetfield also knew that there are many paths to success for today’s high school students, and he wanted his band members to consider that.

“James stood up and was like, ‘What happened to trade school?,'” Richardson remembers.

With trade skills, he told his bandmates, “you can start your own business. You can create your own life,” Richardson says. “James was pointing that out. He was like, ‘I want to put a highlight on these careers. I want us to use our voice to point out these amazing jobs.'”

The rest of the band agreed, and Metallica Scholars was born. Carnegie Mellon University trustee Dr. Ed Frank helped the band connect with the American Association of Community Colleges, and the first 10 schools were each given $100,000 to be spent on career and technical education programs.

Many of them got creative: One school used the funds to create a welding program specifically for female students.

Metallica Scholars has been growing ever since, and includes a partnership with the retail brand Wolverine’s Project Bootstrap initiative. Sales of Wolverine X Metallica Scholars products help fund scholarships, and Wolverine outfits students with workboots and apparel. Now in the third year of this collaboration, they’ve just launched a series of new items, with 50% of proceeds from this year’s limited-edition collection going to Metallica Scholars.

The latest Wolverine x Metallica limited edition collection of boots and clothing was released on Nov. 29. Photo Courtesy of Wolverine.

“For the last few years there has been a significant gap between the number of trade jobs available and the number of skilled workers to fill those jobs. This gap has created one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. economy today,” says Scott Schoessel, vice president of global marketing at Wolverine.

With that in mind, Wolverine began their collaboration with the heavy metal legends.

“We’ve been aggressive in utilizing collaborations and partnerships to drive awareness surrounding the skilled trades gap. Our efforts have led us to like-minded partners that are truly making a difference in elevating and providing accessible opportunities for students to pursue a career in the skilled trades,” Schoessel says. “We work with great teams at organizations such as SkillsUSA, the National FFA, unCommon Construction, Metallica’s All Within My Hands Foundation with Metallica Scholars, and YouthBuild to promote a career in the trades and provide financial support for these critical roles.”

Funding scholarships and partnering on workboot designs may seem like surprising choices for musicians like Hetfield and his bandmates. But in many ways, this focus on skilled trades is a perfect fit.

Metallica Scholars
Part of Metallica’s skilled crew prepares the stage for their Aug. 14 Pittsburgh show. Photo by Mason Anthony.

Throughout their blockbuster careers, the band has seen skilled tradespeople make their shows possible. This came full circle at this year’s Pittsburgh show, as current Metallica Scholars arrived early to spend the day watching the skilled team busy building Metallica’s stage set and riggling up a massive display of video, audio and lighting tech on the field at PNC Park.

Metallica Scholars
Crew members set up protection for Metallica’s audio and video cables at PNC Park. Photo by Mason Anthony.

Conner Walker, one of the students who attended, said it was an inspiring experience. He’s currently studying audio and visual media production at WVU Parkersburg, and is considering working in live performance venues. He sat with a group of fellow students, and his instructor, Jeremy Harrison, watching the crew put the finishing touches on Metallica’s audio and video setup.

Metallica Scholars
Metallica Scholar Conner Walker watches the crew setting up at PNC Park. Photo by Mason Anthony.

It was Harrison who first told Walker that the band Metallica was helping fund training programs at the school and Walker could apply.

“Having Metallica help out with this is phenomenal,” Walker said. That’s the kind of feedback that Richardson and the band members love to hear.

“The Scholars program has proven itself to be very effective. People are increasing their wages. They’re finding careers. They’re not living paycheck to paycheck,” Richardson says. “We’re looking at lives being completely changed.”