Minnesota sheet metal workers create opportunities with new learning lab

The pandemic didn’t slow down progress at Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Beginning in March 2020, construction began on the training center’s new 3,700-square-foot commercial service and architectural lab.

The inside of the building is designed as a commercial service lab while the outside was created to serve as an architectural lab, complete with removable panels. Equipment includes a small air handling unit, in addition to one on the roof that services the building, several fans, variable speed drives, pumps and motorized variable air volume (VAV) boxes.

“We’re pushing really hard to get into the commercial service market,” said Carl Zitzer, Local 10’s training coordinator. “We were running classes, but we didn’t have any commercial equipment.”

Zitzer said this lab will help contractors bid the work and showcase the skills, expertise and professionalism sheet metal workers bring to the marketplace.

“Our members are better qualified,” Zitzer said. “We should be working on our own equipment. All of the major HVAC commercial contractors do that type of work, but they don’t use sheet metal workers to do it. We install it. We should be the ones servicing it.”

With the completion of U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in recent memory, architectural work is yet another specialty sheet metal workers want to keep in their wheelhouse.

Three sides of the new building serve as a lab for the installation of any type of exterior panel system. The interior of the lab also can be used as an architectural lab. Once an apprentice class is finished installing panels, the next class begins the project by taking it apart and then installing a new design. The lab is an important part in training this type of work as it is highly specialized, Zitzer said.

“When you can’t actually do the work in school like they do on the job, it’s hard to explain,” he added. “This is as realistic as possible. This is like doing a real job.”

In 2018, Local 10 installed a fire life safety lab in order to not only train apprentices but also educate local politicians, fire officials and leaders about the importance of fire life safety.

“Any sheet metal work that’s out there, we should be training it,” Zitzer said. “All of us have to be more innovative, have more imagination to make things work.”

Apprentices, such as those at Local 10, receive college-accredited training in Auto CAD, air balancing, refrigeration/service, welding and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) design, fabrication and installation. While they are learning in the classroom, they are gaining skills on the job site including installation of architectural sheet metal, kitchen equipment and duct for heating and air conditioning systems in residential and commercial buildings.

The goal is for apprentices to graduate with a college degree, zero college debt and a career to last a lifetime. More than 14,000 apprentices participate in 148 training centers across the United States and Canada, learning curriculum and using the free training materials provided by the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry.

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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