Coordinators Conference talks technology, innovation during annual event

Breakthrough technology, growth, relevancy, change and the future of the sheet metal industry were the major themes of the 2019 JATC Coordinators Conference put on by the International Training Institute (ITI) Oct. 8-9 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. With 70 training coordinators, 15 ITI staff members and 17 vendors in attendance, the packed schedule stirred lively discussions and produced an abundance of good information and good will.

Subjects ranged from how individual JATCs are using iPads in innovative and sometimes unpredictable ways — electronic curricula has replaced printed text in all 148 training centers — to best practices for recruiting and retaining the younger generations and embracing technology in the skilled building trades as part of an overall shift in culture.

“It’s an exciting time to be in training,” said Mike Harris, ITI program director, in his opening remarks. “We want to make sure that we learn and pass on the high-tech solutions we’ll be hearing about over the next few days to our instructors as we continue to prepare for the future.”

ITI Administrator James Page echoed Harris’ sentiments, using recent changes to the Fire Life Safety (FLS) curriculum as an example of how quickly things are moving in the sheet metal industry. Page also highlighted some of the topics to be covered over the following two days (BIM, Service, curriculum, etc.) and encouraged the attendees to engage in conversation with the presenters with questions and input. Change is inevitable – sometimes it’s quick in implementation. In other cases, it takes a few years to fully realize the success of a change in direction.

“It’s a dynamic difference from what it was even a few months ago,” he said, reflecting on the changes to the Funds programs. “That’s what we’re chasing here, the retention and expansion of new and existing membership and the continual growth in work hours. We need to remain the most skilled craft.”

In the next session, Duane Smith, director of certification for the International Certification Board/ Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (ICB/TABB), presented an award to training coordinator Carl Zitzer of Local 10 JATC in Minnesota, for promoting ICB/TABB certifications and building a new state-of-the-art FLS training lab. Smith then launched into a recap of exciting news on the certification front, including six cities, two states (New Mexico and Nevada) and multiple municipalities that have passed FLS legislation mandating that smoke and fire damper inspections and repairs be done by ANSI-accredited technicians, as well as major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Portland, Oregon, where similar laws are in the works.

After a short break, Randy Krocka, Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) administrator, updated participants on developments and events of value to them, such as the 2020 Safety Champions Conference in San Antonio, Texas; the Safety Matters Awards to recognize and honor outstanding contributions in expanding health and safety initiatives for unionized sheet metal workers; the SMART Members’ Assistance Program (MAP), a member-to-member network of empathetic and trained union members who provide assistance and support for brothers and sisters struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, grief and loss; the SMOHIT Helpline, a direct 24/7 number for members to reach out to a mental health professional; the STEPS Challenge, an ongoing program to encourage members and their families to get more exercise in a fun and easy way that builds teamwork; and Benovate, a new online health and wellness platform.

Following a preview of new recruitment videos targeting Millennials and Generation Z, Gen. President Joseph Sellers took to the podium to provide a General Convention update and a summary of the five-year strategic plan that came out of it, focusing on the all-important issue of growth.

“How do we grow as a union?” Sellers challenged the audience. “Do we think technology is going to impact the number of members we need on a job? We have to be ready and prepared to proactively deal with not only the benefits but the drawbacks of tech.”

Overall, Sellers predicted the organized sheet metal industry would lose market share over the next five-year cycle. One of the biggest hurdles?

“Union sheet metal retains only two out of 10 recruits,” he said. “Non-signatory contractors get the rest.”

Sellers also discussed a number of innovations that have to happen quickly, including getting people out of their silos and comfort zones; improving the flow of communication up and down the chain; implementing a “massive shift” in training to stay ahead of the technology curve; making the sheet metal industry relevant to the younger generation; and fast-tracking skilled recruits by giving them credit for real-life work experience.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” he said. “Did you know that the largest tape measure manufacturer in the world is trying to figure out how to do away with tape measures? That’s what technology is doing to all of us.”

Sellers, who had just returned from participating in the 2019 Trades Women Build Nations Conference, finished his presentation by discussing vital cultural and social issues such as diversity, inclusion, nondiscrimination, and facility upgrades such as daycare.

After lunch, the vendor technology sessions began in earnest, beginning with Josh Bone, construction technologist for Caisson, who urged coordinators to embrace high-tech to drive their internal culture and give them a competitive edge. Quoting management guru Peter Drucker, Bone said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He continued to advise them to see change “not as a threat but an opportunity.”

Additional speakers wrapping up the first day included Darrell Roberts from Helmets to Hardhats, a valuable ITI partner who provides career pathways for transitioning veterans, and Dave Micciche, CEO of CADLearning, who emphasized the benefits of his company’s all-access subscription model for its learning titles. In addition to being a supporter of the SMART Heroes Foundation, Frank Moore, AEC business development manager for Autodesk, shared updates on software such as AutoCAD and Revit and the future of the relationship with the ITI.

“The vendor support is unbelievable on both the software and hardware sides,” said Ed Abraham, training coordinator for Local 88 in Las Vegas. “I look forward to working with all of them in the future.”

The second day’s agenda was equally jammed, beginning with Thomas Kriger of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), who outlined the organization’s Apprentice Readiness Programs (ARPs) and the many ways they have of channeling high schoolers, women, people of color and transitioning veterans into the building trades Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3), ensuring better candidates, higher retention rates, and an enhanced quality of life in the communities it serves.

“This is not a Republican thing. This is not a Democratic thing,” Kriger said. “It’s a good thing, putting people to work.”

In the next session, ITI field representative Lisa Davis introduced Cengage, a digital cloud-based interactive learning platform that now houses the ITI’s service curriculum, while demonstrating actual simulations. Up next was ITI technology guru David Collins, who provided a primer on the strengths and weaknesses of various infrastructure options, from broadband and Wi-Fi to network security and antivirus. More software information followed from industry providers such as PlanGrid, a digital online construction management platform giving builders real-time access to blueprints, punch lists, daily reports, submittals and more. PlanGrid, recently purchased by Autodesk, is partnering with the ITI to provide each JATC with up to 50 licenses at no charge once a JATC’s instructor has completed the course training (more details to come in the near future).

Additional updates were provided courtesy of ITI training collaborators Lincoln Electric (welding), Trimble (digital online platform for data scanning, storage and transfer), Faro (3D measurement, imaging and realization technology), and Linq (a voice-activated search engine that streamlines construction document management and is available to JATCs for training purposes at no charge). Launch dates will be announced soon.

“It’s good to see us moving forward, especially in terms of getting the proper resources from vendors to help us get the job done,” said Dale Carpenter, training coordinator for Montana State JATC.

“One of the most popular and engaging presentations, entitled “The Business of Running a JATC,” was presented by Tim Myres, administrator at Local 104 and Bay Area Training Fund. Myres, who said he “learned things the hard way,” shared his years of hard-won knowledge. He asked the audience, “Who is your customer?” The audience, in agreement it was apprentices and contractors, were posed with follow-up questions, including “What can we do better?”

Myers gave the coordinators more food for thought as he boiled running a JATC down to these salient points:

  • How will you pay for it?
  • Risk assessment
  • Hire professionals
  • Successorship and sustainability

“Don’t just do something because that’s the way you’ve always done it,” Myres said. “This is a fast-moving trade. Things change. Evaluate everything.”

Toward the end, the conference featured an animated discussion as the ITI leadership and coordinators put their JATCs under a microscope, analyzing what they are teaching and why they are teaching it. Harris distributed a summary sheet that will allow the coordinators to input training hours associated with each subject, giving them the ability to see and understand where their current focus lies and how they might make it more relevant and relatable.

“You might find the results surprising,” Harris said.

You could say the same about the Conference as a whole, arguably the most helpful and well-received in recent memory, according to some attendees.

“This was great. Good insight into the new technology, which we can integrate into the new training center we’re currently building,” said Joshua Moore, coordinator for Local 12 in Pittsburgh. “Being a new coordinator, I especially appreciated the opportunity to sit down and learn from different coordinators from different areas and levels of experience.”

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

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