Specializing helps Michigan workers find niche, further their careers

ALEXANDRIA, Va.As those across the nation know, America has experienced record unemployment numbers over the past few years. In Michigan, it’s approximately 10.4 percent. As a result, those employed, unemployed and underemployed alike have been forced to get creative to stay viable in their career fields. Enrollment at continuing education institutions goes up as people search for a way to reinvent themselves.

In the sheet metal industry, some workers are finding their niche by taking classes and improving their skill set.

Matt O’Rourke and Mike Stolber of Michigantook their sheet metal careers into their own hands when they made the decision to specialize in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB), which assures proper air flow and circulation in buildings. With the jobless rate inMichiganthe sixth-highest in the nation, finding work was their job and they hoped this would be the niche they needed.

Both men are members of Sheet Metal Local #80 in Detroit, but O’Rourke is a fourth-year apprentice while Stolber is a seasoned journeyman. Other than their local, the men also had something else in common – the need to succeed and be happy doing it.

While they were laid off, they each enrolled in their first introductory TAB technician training course offered by the International Training Institute, the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry. The training was made possible by a $5 million Energy Training Partnership grant awarded in 2010 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).

The 120-hour class taught the theory of heat transfer, psychrometrics, related math formulas, proper procedural usage of instruments, development reporting and hands-on industry standard testing, adjusting and balancing techniques. From then, they were hooked.

“I got the temporary lay-off at the shop the same week they were offering the class. I wasn’t even sure there would be room,” O’Rourke said. “It fits my capabilities.”

Stolber was interested in TAB from the beginning. Not only did he complete the 120-hour TAB course, he went on to graduate from the TAB supervisor, and TAB commissioning supervisor courses.

“I’ve always been interested in it, and I took the course hoping it would help my job chances,” Stolber said. “In TAB, you learn more about how a system actually works instead of just doing ductwork.”

With their corresponding TAB certifications under their belts, O’Rourke and Stolber each found jobs at Enviro Aire Total Balance in St.ClaireShores, Mich., about 19 miles northeast of Detroit. Networking with instructors and fellow classmates helps in the job process following graduation, O’Rourke said.

“They gave me the basics of everything I do,” added O’Rourke, who has one more year of apprenticeship. “I’ve done a lot of learning on the job, and I’ve got a lot of learning to do, but they did a great job in my preparation. I try to encourage everybody to take classes. It’s not a quick fix. You may not find a job as soon as you graduate, but it’s something you’ll learn … and it looks good to potential employers.”

Unionized sheet metal workers in good standing can attend the TAB 120 course inCleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and Southern California. Once participants finish the course, they will be given the opportunity to take the TAB technician written certification exam, which must be passed to move on to the hands-on performance portion. If all exam aspects are passed, participants can exit as a certified TAB technician.

“These are only two examples of how constant training and diversification can truly help sheet metal workers stay working,” said John Hamilton, chief operating officer of TABB (Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau). “Education will move any industry into the future, and it’s no different in sheet metal. These two men are examples of how dedication to your career and the ability to be flexible can really pay off.”

The next 120-hour TAB courses are set for Sept. 11 through Oct. 2 inSt. Louis, and Oct. 9 through Oct. 30 in Southern California. The application deadlines are Sept. 1 and Sept. 29, respectively.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in theUnited StatesandCanada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout theUnited StatesandCanada. Located inAlexandria,Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *