These are far from the best of times in the sheet metal and construction industries, so stories of contractors and sheet metal workers suffering don’t surprise me.

At various times in the last few years, I have heard about Sheet Metal Workers union locals grappling with near-50 percent unemployment rates and sometimes amending contracts to hopefully make their members more employable. Stories about workers forced to take jobs in non-construction industries to pay the bills are also common.

But the approach unemployed California sheet metal worker Paul Ross Hensley is taking is unique. The 48-year-old from Sacramento has recorded an album of songs about his struggle and the tough road many Americans face in the “great recession.” He hopes sales of the album will help stave off the foreclosure of the house he shares with his wife and two children.

Until he was laid off in 2007, Hensley had a 26-year career in the industry. He says he has little hope of returning to his old job.

“When I got laid off, the union’s list of out-of-work men was over 200,” Hensley said. “My wife and I knew this problem was bigger than us and we had to do something to make some extra money.”

The album is titled “Destitute Legend,” and has a country-rock sound. It features Hensley singing songs such as “Money’s King,” about the many ways everyday citizens are cheated while corporations and politicians get wealthier.

Hensley also has pages on Facebook and MySpace, and has a YouTube channel where he explains his situation and his approach to songwriting and singing. He is hoping to sell copies of the album through online retailers such as Amazon and the Apple iTunes store.

“I need to do this now more than ever because my unemployment benefits are going to be cut,” he said.

You can find out more about Hensley or hear some samples of his music at www.paulrosshensley.com.

Some fare well

I should point out that there are success stories during this recession as well. Some months ago, we featured an interview with George Pfister, a sheet metal worker from Indiana who had also lost his job.

When I interviewed Pfister, he was putting a metal roof on his home using leftover panels saved from previous projects with his employer. In addition to saving money, it allowed him to keep his sheet metal skills sharp while looking for a new job. And while finishing that project was noteworthy in itself, Pfister mentioned at the end of the interview that he was starting to do some energy-auditing work financed through the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress in the early days of President Barack Obama’s administration.

I was happy to see a laid-off sheet metal worker able to find work and hear that some of the much-criticized stimulus was really doing was it was designed for. We will feature more on Pfister and energy auditing in an upcoming issue.

And if you are surviving - or maybe thriving - in this recession, I’d like to hear about it. What have you done to keep your company going and employing as many people as possible? Or if you’ve left sheet metal for another field, but still read Snips and maybe hope to one day return to HVAC work, I’d love to know what you’re doing.

This recession has been deeper and longer than many people in the industry have ever experienced. I would like to know how it has impacted you. Contact me at mcconnellm@bnpmedia.com, and include your name, where you live and a way to contact you. We might talk to you for a story or print some of your responses in Snips.