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Snapshots of 2017 NCC: Training for Skilled Craft Professionals [VIDEO]

While at the ABC 2017 National Craft Championships, I enjoyed talking with three individuals who are all involved in training programs for the skilled craft trades.  This is the third in a series of posts featuring excerpts from conversations I had with some of the industry leaders I met at the event.

Jeff Rodenberg spoke with me about the pipe welding competition as we stood next to some of the pieces which had been completed by the competitors that morning during the first half of the hands-on portion of the competition.  Rodenberg is the Craft Training Manager for TIC - The Industrial Company, based out of Englewood, Colorado near Denver.  They are a heavy industrial contractor:  they build power plants; refineries; mines; oil and gas, petrochemical, and midstream facilities.  They have regional offices, one of which is in The Woodlands, Texas near Houston, where they bid for projects all over the country.  One of these projects, the Elk Station Units 2 & 3, had been awarded an ABC Excellence In Construction Eagle Award at ABC’s annual awards program the evening before right there in Ft Lauderdale.  TIC received the award because the project had been completed under budget and ahead of schedule while logging more than 680,000 of safe man-hours to build two 190-megawatt gas facilities near Lubbock, Texas.

I asked him about the craft training program at TIC.  He said,

“We have our own in-house apprentice program.  We teach pipefitting, welding, electrical, millwright, ironworking, rigging, and concrete trades.  It’s a four-year apprentice program based in Colorado which services all of our projects across America.”  When I asked whether any outside businesses invested in their training program, Rodenberg explained that their program was only for training their own craft professionals.  They have built their own $16 million facility in Colorado for the training program.

TIC had a pipe welder, a pipe fitter, and two electricians entered in the Championships this year.  I asked Rodenberg to talk about the pipe welding assignment the competitors had worked on that morning.

“They had a difficult assignment this morning.  [The pipe they had to work on] was 12 inches off the ground with two pipes obscuring it, so they are on their knees, they are on their butt, they’re on their side trying to work around these other pipes.  And they all did a pretty solid job.”

Rodenberg told me that TIC has been attending the competition since it was originally called the Craft Olympics and held in San Antonio, Texas.  The company plans to continue to attend the competition where it will be held in Long Beach, California for the next few years and in San Antonio after that.

Steve Bowen was an electrical contractor for 44 years before he became a Professor of Practice at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), which means he is an experienced contractor teaching Construction Management.  He told me, “I teach electrical design (since I was a design-build contractor); I teach Construction Scheduling; and I teach Advanced Estimating – the three things I did for 44 years.  I don’t know if I am a good teacher, but I have a lot of stories.”

When asked about the Construction Management program at UNL, he replied:

“Oh, it is a great program.  I graduated from the program in 1972.  We are celebrating the 50th anniversary this year, so it has been around for a little while.  Our program has 100% employment.  Every graduate that comes out of our Construction Management program is hired away.  Our average salary, I think, from those who graduated in December was around $63,000 per year. … And they’re spread out around the country.  A lot of contractors come to get our students because [the students] have a really good work ethic and we have a well-rounded education.  We have a lot of great alumni who are doing a lot of building around the world.

“They graduate with a degree in Construction Management, and they also gain a lot of experience while they are in school with internships.  They are pretty well prepared to start running projects when they get out of school.”

I asked if they had companies in the Lincoln, Nebraska area who hired the UNL students as interns.  Bowen answered emphatically, “Oh yeah, we have people all over the country who hire them as interns!  We have students who go to California, to Phoenix – even other countries.”  Most of these internships occur during summers, but some do occur during the school year.

Finally, I spoke with Matthew Schwartz who works for Vincennes University (VU) in Vincennes, Indiana in their Division of Outreach and Engagement.  As he spoke with me, the hands-on portion of the electrical competition continued behind him.

Vincennes University has outreach programs with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) in the state of Indiana as well as in the state of Virginia.  Schwartz explained, “We provide Associate Degrees as they are going from apprenticeship to journeyman.  So in that four years, they can pick up that journeyman card and also a VU associate degree in about ten different construction trades, including electrical, pipefitting, plumbing, and others.”  The Vincennes crafts trades program has been around for over 15 years, during which they have worked with ABC to develop “a really strong partnership.”  Schwartz added:

“We are also assisting [ABC] with recruiting veterans that are coming off of active duty and are wanting to go into one of the skilled craft trades, and that’s something that we have really been able to introduce to ABC in general.”

VU began by partnering with the Indiana Department of Labor and were able to get some grants put together.  The president of the Indiana ABC Chapter is also a board member of Vincennes University, which is how that partnership was introduced.  VU later developed a relationship with ABC Virginia by introduction from the ABC Indiana partnership.

You may see these interviews in the 5½ -minute video below, and watch for more coverage of the event in upcoming posts here on Construction Citizen.