Sheet metal workers get educated to keep working

Testing, adjusting and balancing certification fills niche for Michigan workers

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Matt O’Rourke and Mike Stolber of Michigan took their sheet metal careers into their own hands when they made the decision to specialize in testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB). With the jobless rate in Michigan the sixth-highest in the nation, finding work was their job and they hoped TAB 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. Claire Shores, 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 in Cleveland, 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 in St. 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 the United States and Canada. 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 the United States and Canada. Located in Alexandria, 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.

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