“Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead”: The ITI turns 50

The first 15 years of any organization’s lifetime is an important time in its history. Its evolution depends solely on the strength of the roots established in those first few years. The International Training Institute (ITI) was created as the National Training Fund (NTF) on May 12, 1971, and over the last 50 years it has grown, overcome obstacles and transformed into the organization it is today.

Originally conceived as “a weapon to challenge the unfair competition generated by non-union contractors,” as one historical document put it, the fund was created to bring apprenticeship together nationwide, and over five decades it has.

The creation of the NTF began in 1970 as union Gen. President Edward F. Carlough was leaving office and his son, Edward J. Carlough, was taking over. The pair, working with Jim Mills, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) chapter manager in Pittsburgh, and others, had a vision and supported apprenticeship as a vein of growth for the industry nationwide. The idea was met with controversy, but once it was approved, the younger Carlough received a telegram from Mills that read, “Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead.”

The creation of the NTF was made official on May 12, 1971, and announced at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., one year before that location played an important role in American political history.

W.L. “Bill” Fillippini, of Santa Barbara, California, was hired as the NTF’s first administrator. Two months later, Fillippini was introduced on stage at SMACNA’s convention in Puerto Rico, flanked by labor and management trustees in a joint sign of support by SMACNA and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (now known as SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers).

“Full speed ahead” the first few years consisted of the creation of the National Curriculum Committee, which explored and recommended a nationwide program of study, and the national apprentice contest as well as the appointment of five regional coordinators (that would expand to 10 in less than five years). In the first two years, the Loan/Grant Program was established to help training coordinators upgrade their programs. This included the use of technology such as film and cassettes, transparencies, brochures and other teaching aids.

By 1974, David Herrington, NTF administrative assistant, and Dr. Roy Butler, from the Center for Vo/Tech at Ohio State University, developed a program for training the industry’s instructors. Curricula for week-long courses were created in basic instructor training, advanced professional development instructor training, and a local training coordinators program. More than 2,800 sheet metal instructors participated in the program in the first 15 years.

The same year, the first on-site welding certification program was born. Historically, welding had not been seen as a vital part of the sheet metal trade, but an opportunity arose to train and provide workers for a job at Tennessee Valley Authority, a nuclear power plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This first trial, however, was viewed as a failure — one of 27 passed the test and welding work was returned to the boilermakers. But it taught union and training leadership multiple valuable lessons.

“The $20,000 spent was probably the best $20,000 ever spent on a failure by the National Training Fund,” one historical document stated. “This effort in failure gave directions for the future areas in need of specialized training programs.”

Fillippini set out to rectify the failure in three steps, which included discussions with the American Welding Society; a worldwide search to identify any and all materials available to enable the NTF to start an immediate nationwide welding training program; and the formation of a technical welding advisory committee, consisting of welding experts representing labor and management.

By 1985, 4,338 sheet metal workers had been trained in NTF Welding Trailers, 1,713 were certified and nearly 250 people had participated in the Welding Instructor Training Program.

In April 1986, the NTF moved offices from downtown Washington, D.C., to the Edward F. Carlough Plaza on the shore of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. That year, the “Generations” statue was created by Joseph Kinkel, the son of Local 9 retiree Allen Kinkel of Denver. The statue depicts the handing down of sheet metal skills from one generation to the next. The statue was moved again in February of this year to the Funds’ new location in Falls Church, Virginia.

More than 14,000 apprentices are registered at 148 training facilities across the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART and SMACNA.

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, the ITI develops and 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 and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.

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