Sheet metal training center uses technology to reach apprentices

Local 58 in Syracuse uses plasma tables to DVD players to deliver knowledge

FAIRFAX, Va. – For educators, reaching students can sometimes be a task of trial and error. Teachers struggle to find the best way to reach students, increase their absorption of the material and ensure their students have everything they need to venture out into the world with useful knowledge. Instructors teaching curriculum of the International Training Institute (ITI) at 153 training centers for the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry across the country have the same challenges as many college professors.

At Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 58’s training center in Syracuse, New York, part-time instructors and coordinators work to help 40 apprentices in the five-year program learn what they need to make the most out of their sheet metal career. Successes for them have come in the form of updated technology.

Embarking the skill of laying out fittings by hand doesn’t make much sense to Tony Castrello, business manager, financial secretary and treasurer and one of two  part-time training directors at the school. He and his team realized teaching apprentices, whose age ranges from 25 to 40 in Syracuse, needed to involve the use of technology.

“Technology is changing day by day,” Castrello said. “There are a lot of things – day by day – that are different from the way I was taught. Even though we’re a small local, our goal is to keep one step ahead of the program. One way to do that is to keep up with technology.”

Plasma tables, three-dimension design software, DVDs and portable DVD players, electronic versions of texts on e-readers and the Internet, tablets and laptops help students better connect with the material.

“We’re seeing if we use technology, they catch on faster than if we put a book in front of them,” Castrello said.

The center also jumps on all curriculum opportunities available to them from the ITI, the education arm of the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry. Providing tools that are available to all members, the ITI is leading the skilled labor trades in advancements in industry and workplace technology, and the training center in Syracuse is the perfect example of how new technology can be used to improve on industry traditions.

“The sheet metal industry has to keep moving forward, and using the newest technology is the perfect way to do that,” said James Shoulders, administrator for the ITI. “We can’t keep doing things the same way and expect new outcomes. Training centers like the one in Syracuse help sheet metal workers stay one step ahead of the industry and the other labor trades and make sure we are educating the future, not the past.”

Instructor Steve Borowve has been teaching for 11 years and has seen his position evolve. He has found success using portable DVD players to allow students to work through a lesson at their own pace or supplement material he goes over in class.

“It’s not as personal now with the new technology, but they get more information, which is what they need,” Borowve said. “We’re trying to give them the most information we possibly can.”

Castrello puts material onto thumb drives and discs for apprentices and sends instructors to technology training with ITI. The training center is also working toward testing to become a certified welding facility.

“I have retirees who are teaching now who are more computer literate than the kids,” Castrello said. “They moved forward with technology, because they know it’s the only way we’re going to survive.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at the 153 training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) 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 Fairfax, 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.

*Originally run on Eye on Sheet Metal.