Coordinators Conference hosted in person for first time since 2019

The International Training Institute (ITI) held its annual Coordinators Conference Aug. 11-12 at the Hilton in Union Square, San Francisco, just as the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Leadership Conference wrapped up at the same venue. The ITI staff and approximately 70 coordinators convened in person for the first time since 2019, and Program Administrator Ron McGuire and Administrator Mike Harris opened the conference stating the direction of the industry could be summed up in one word — “forward.

First to present was Dushaw Hockett, founder and executive director of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs) and member of the Belonging and Excellence for All (Be4All) Committee, a joint effort of SMART, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and the ITI. Hockett led a science-based discussion that dispelled misunderstandings about implicit bias.

“Having bias doesn’t make us bad people,” Hockett explained. “It makes us human.”

McGuire and Harris then discussed the ITI grant programs, with Harris encouraging coordinators to broaden their thinking in regard to what a grant could do for them. McGuire reported great enthusiasm for 3D printers and laser welders. The ITI offers a grant covering 90% of the cost of a hand-held laser welder, which, along with a $5,000 discount the ITI negotiated with IPG Photonics, means a training center can receive the setup and all mandatory safety training for only $3,000 to $4,000 — or less if the center already has a welding booth.

SMART General President Joe Sellers and SMART General Secretary-Treasurer Joe Powell each gave coordinators their thoughts from a big-picture perspective. Sellers spoke on the looming need for sheet metal workers at electric vehicle (EV) and computer chip plants. Recruiting to meet this need means getting into new communities, taking applications 24/7, moving workers around and embracing new ideas like the ITI’s competency-based program.

“The stakes are high. Ford has been a great partner in union construction, but if we fail, Ford will not forget,” Sellers said, referring to the car maker’s plans to build a 3,600-acre electric vehicle plant, dubbed Blue Oval City, outside Memphis. “These electric vehicles are going to change the industry, and we have got to perform.”

Powell also offered ideas on how to meet the coming need for apprentices. He touched on strategies like bounty programs, incentives and ways to keep local jobs attractive as larger, temporary ones emerged.

“You’re going to have to triple the number of apprentices — how do you do that?” Powell said. “There’s no silver bullet idea, so what you think might not be a great idea might just be the thing that’s best, the thing that works.”

Aldo Zambetti, administrator of the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust Inc. (SMOHIT), spoke on the changes ahead and announced that Chris Carlough was now on board full time as program coordinator for the SMOHIT-SMART MAP (Member Assistance Program).

“Tell yourself, ‘it’s OK to not be OK,’ and repeat it,” Zambetti encouraged. “Get comfortable with it so you start saying it to others. You don’t need to know how to fix them. Just be with them.”

He noted while asbestos exposure can have a latency period around 50 years, a mental health crisis sometimes requires life-saving action in 50 seconds. That’s where the SMART MAP peer-to-peer training, suicide prevention, and mental health programs, as well as the SMOHIT Helpline come in. Seeking help for mental illness should get the same accolades as quitting smoking — both are steps toward better health, Zambetti said.

Trent London, field representative for the northeast region, then presented on the new cycle of training program accreditations, which renew every five years. There are four levels of accreditation — platinum, gold, silver and bronze — determined by 148 total criteria, 62 of which are mandatory. As part of the accreditation process, coordinators must go through the staff checklist, attend accreditation workshop meetings, place required documentation into folders, then upload everything for review. Assessors working in groups of two then alert the coordinator if more documentation is required.

Day two began with discussion on the new certified welding instructor (CWI) program policy, then a presentation on apprenticeship standards and direct-entry language, led by Chris Caricato, ITI architectural sheet metal specialist and field representative. While federal and state authorities impose regulations for standards, Caricato reminded coordinators that locals retain some ability to revise them.

The national guidelines developed by the ITI comply with California’s Title 29 and contain language that allows direct entry, opening up apprenticeship to more applicants. A local can grant credit for previous experience (not just for veterans, as experience with SkillsUSA, YouthBuild or Job Corps can be applied) as well as for “meritorious” performance, that is, apprentices showing accelerated aptitude. The National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards (NGAS), which are developed by the ITI and approved by the federal Office of Apprenticeship (OA), also contain language about skill shortages, opening up another door.

Later, ITI Field Representative Len Liebert went over format changes to the instructor development course series. Liebert praised live, collective instruction and said instructors who took the 101 course remotely during the pandemic could retake it to get the live experience.

“Good instructors are not born, they’re built. You have to give them time,” he said. “I’ve seen much more collaboration taking place. It’s how humans like to learn.”

Carl Simons, ITI field staff representative and building information modeling (BIM) specialist, then discussed the new digital Reading Plans and Specifications curriculum released in August. He compared the three major platforms — Autodesk Construction Cloud, Procore and Dado — and went over new features in the curriculum’s student manual.

Wrapping up the conference, Harris looked to the future, touting the virtual reality tool the ITI has been working on and the hopes of developing a coordinator mentoring program. He then told attendees to mark their calendars, as the 2023 Coordinators Conference will take place in Washington, D.C.

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.

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