Sheet Metal Local No. 91 welcomes new facility, opportunities

Training center size tripled, new experiences on horizon for apprentices, journeymen

At Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 91 in Rock Island, Illinois, a new facility means more opportunities for apprentices and journeymen.

The 23,000-square-foot facility, which will be fully completed this fall, houses a 14,000-square-foot training facility and a 9,000-square-foot area, which will house the union hall and health and welfare offices. The training center – triple the size of the previous space – will include two large classrooms, an indoor/outdoor service lab, computer lab, welding lab and a large shop space, which includes a 500-square-foot training house that is used for the HVAC and architectural program instruction.

The new facility gives the school more than just room. It gives instructors the ability to take their teaching to another level – one where theory becomes hands-on experience and new technology opens doors.

“We can take advantage of the things that were in the curriculum that we couldn’t teach before. We can now provide more classes,” said Jason Gerdes, instructor. “Sometimes you teach them something in a hour or two when you know they’d get a better experience if they had a half day of it.”

Once apprentices graduate from the program and become journeymen, the education doesn’t end. At Local No. 91, however, journeymen were getting the short end of the stick in regards to continuing their education simply because the space was tight.

“We were too overcrowded,” said Carl Odendahl, training director for Local No. 91. “Now, we’re going to do a lot more with the journeymen than we used to as well as more with the residential and industrial areas.”

Local No. 91 draws sheet metal workers from eastern Iowa and central and western Illinois, where coal-fired powerhouses, nuclear power plants, ethanol plants and food and grain processing facilities are prevalent. Demand in residential and commercial service and industrial work is also high on the list of areas with increased training opportunities because of the new building.

“We didn’t have a big presence in residential, so hopefully, it will help us,” Odendahl said. “The new building will definitely help us increase our market share.”

The 500-square-foot training house, created inside the fabrication shop, was created to allow apprentices new experiences. The split-foyer design house includes working residential systems, so apprentices can work on both heating and cooling systems, duct and aesthetics in a controlled environment. The house allows the theory in the books to come to life.

“Your hands were tied with what you could give the students,” Gerdes said. “You could go through the theory on things but couldn’t apply it. It soaks in better when you can apply it.”

Along with the training house, the new facility brought new equipment and technology, including an iron worker with hydraulics, power slip roll for higher gauge material, a plasma cutting table and a 40-ton press brake for industrial work. The new welding lab also includes a modern ventilation systems and a Vyrex 360 virtual welding machine.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at 153 training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Fairfax, Va., ITI 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, visit or call 703-739-7200.

Apprentices, gerdes, ITI, journeymen, Local 91, new building, Odendahl, Rock Island, sheet metal, Sheet metal workers, training facility
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