New lab gives sheet metal apprentices on-site training indoors

Construction, Sheet Metal

Controlled environment allows for additional safety training, conditioning

ALEXANDRIA, Va.One of the secrets to success in any new career is on-the-job training. At Sheet Metal Workers Local #105 nearLos Angeles, students in the apprenticeship program, along with seasoned journeymen, cultivate their skills in a state-of-the-art lab. From creating a spiral staircase from scratch and installing handrails to working on a domed or angled roof, most real-life work situations are duplicated in the comfort of the indoor lab. The controlled environment also is perfect for teaching safety skills and maneuvers.

For HVAC installations in the lab, apprentices work three feet off the ground, giving them the feeling of what it feels like to work at greater heights. Safety taught in the lab gives apprentices more confidence and a better knowledge base in the field, said Roy Ringwood, business manager and president of Local #105.

“It was designed in this manner for the safety of our apprentices and instructors,” Ringwood said. “Safety is in ITI’s (International Training Institute) curriculum, but now we get to practice it firsthand.”

Throughout the new facility, safety is a large part of training. Architectural apprentices will work from the third floor level equipped with built up pitched roof designs that allow students to be tethered and wear safety harnesses to perform the task at hand.

“It’s safe, and they get the feeling of what it’s like to be tied off at 30 feet,” said Lance Clark, Local #105’s training center administrator. “It’s going to show me if they can cope with working on the building, being safe and handling materials and tools, the same conditions as in the field.”

The lab fills a niche in the sheet metal apprentice training. In the past, apprentices completed their fieldwork entirely on the job site. In the controlled environment of the lab, instructors can better guide apprentices, ensure their safety and knowledge of safety protocol and better evaluate their students, Ringwood said.

“It’s a major part, in my opinion, that’s been missing in our training – the job site conditions,” Ringwood added. “They have to build it inside. It’s a continual refreshing of the job site. They build it, install it, take it out, build it again under different conditions with obstacles we put in their way, and then install again under different conditions.”

The 5,000-square-foot lab, created inside the 75,000-square-foot established training facility, was in the planning stage for two-and-a-half years before getting the green light and receiving funding from the local training center. The space includes 30-foot ceilings and three floors. The first and second floors allow for the installation of HVAC equipment and ductwork from supply and return to diffuser systems. Although it will open to full capacity for the fall semester, the open house for the facility isn’t scheduled until the first of the year.

“It’s a building within a building. This has been done around the country to an extent, but this sets a whole new parameter to our training,” Ringwood said. “It’s fairly condensed because there’s a lot in these 5,000 square feet. But it allows for materials to be fork lifted into the job site for installation.”

For the industrial side, apprentices will measure, fabricate and install a spiral staircase from steel through the center of an octagon as well as remove, remake and reinstall safety handrails on permanent staircases. Architectural apprentices will experience the installation and building of louvers as well as ornamental column covers and decorative siding. Dramatic steep roof inclines – one at a 45-degree angle – allows for real-life experience installing copings and sheet metal roofing. It also allows for the installation of ornamental cathedrals, cupolas, dormers, church steeples and domes. Overhead concrete slabs were installed for training in drilling and powder actuated inserting. Apprentices and journeymen will install commercial expansion joints, sheet metal gutters will be built for radius fascia and compound mitered gutters and concealed gutters will also be fabricated and installed.

For the union, instead of testing a potential journeyman applicant on the job site, workers can be tested in the lab to prove their journeyman qualifications.

“They can measure the job, draw the job, fabricate the sheet metal products, install the sheet metal and meet specifications all in one place,” Ringwood added.

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 or call 703-739-7200.