Three unions come together to educate tomorrow’s workforce

Pre-apprenticeship programs help sheet metal workers prepare for the future

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) in Bakersfield, Calif. are taking unprecedented measures to ensure, when the economy rebounds, their workforce is ready with the latest knowledge at their disposal.

Vern Shaffer, business representative and training coordinator for the training center at Sheet Metal Local #105 Bakersfield, is actively recruiting craftsmen and women for the union’s Green Building Pre-Apprenticeship Program and the Pink and Green Pre-Apprenticeship Program for women, with the next classes for both programs beginning Jan. 10. The three-week programs are meant to introduce pre-apprentices to the expectations of apprenticeship and the soft skills needed to prepare them for apprenticeships, not only in sheet metal, but other building trades.

For example, the International Training Institute (best known as ITI) for the sheet metal and air conditioning industry offers more than 165 training facilities throughout the United States and Canada. ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

Throughout the three weeks, representatives from Sheet Metal Local #105 Bakersfield, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 460 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 428 provide information on training, skills and careers – an “unprecedented collaboration between the three unions,” Shaffer said.

“Participants are open to go into any apprenticeship they choose,” he added. “We’ve never had those three unions come together in their classifications before, with the idea of preparatory recruitment. It’s the first time we have brought in an outside entity, such as the Kern Community College District, Employers Training Resource and Career Services Center to assist in actively screening pre-apprentice candidates. I don’t know of any place across the country where sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipefitters and electricians have come together to teach one class, actively recruiting future tradesmen and women.”

Not one local labor union is left out of the program, Shaffer said. All building trades are invited to come in and give a presentation about their apprenticeship on the program’s last day.

“We give the students enough to give them a taste of what direction they want to go,” Shaffer said. With the addition of green building, the program also gives unemployed sheet metal workers the chance to brush up on their skills. “When people are out of work for more than six months, their skills slide and they become less employable. We’re trying to move them forward and understand construction is changing, and this class is a useful tool.”

Along with the green building model, Shaffer and his team developed the Pink and Green program for women. During the program, journeywomen from the different trades and specialties answer questions about careers in the building trades. The program, which was largely successful earlier in 2010, allows women a safe zone to answer questions that fit their needs and career goals.

“As men – we tend to think we know everything – male students would dominate the classroom conversations,” said Shaffer of the integrated classes. Some women would not get their questions answered or their voices heard until the end of the program. The Pink and Green program changed the dynamic. Since the first class, the program has purchased items that donate funds to breast cancer research and has invested in recycled classroom materials. “The women in the Pink and Green program were more open. It has really taken on its own persona.”

Both programs are products of the Workforce Investment Act grant and a partnership between the Employers Training Resource, the Career Services Center, and the Kern Community College District in Bakersfield. The programs are set to conclude in June 2011. The goal is to graduate 120 students from the programs in 18 months and have them prepared to enter the workforce.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. The International Training Institute (best known as ITI) is jointly sponsored by SMWIA and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). ITI offers 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 the contest or ITI, visit or call 703-739-7200.