Puerto Rico training program emerges to plan for future
Contracts, partnerships and persistence keep Local #41 on the educational track
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – During this recession, planning for the future of the sheet metal and air conditioning industry has been a heavy focus for the industry’s International Training Institute (ITI).
When times are tough, it’s easy to just tread water and wait it out, but that approach won’t help the industry grow and ensure it’s ready when times are good again. Instead, the ITI recommends its Joint Apprentice Training Centers (JATC) continue to train an appropriate number of new apprentices each year.
Sheet Metal Local #41 inPuerto Rico has taken that message to heart. It was established five years ago nearSan Juan, and after a year, organizers quickly realized training was needed. The journey, however, was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
During the next three years, the JATC worked with the ITI to build the curriculum and Puerto Rican leaders to pave the way to certification. Courses were established with local labor needs in mind, and in 2009, the new JATC was recognized and authorized with the Vocational Technical and High Skills School Number V20-05 license, which is needed inPuerto Ricoto operate.
In September 2010, the Local #41 signed a contract with Ana G. Mendez University effective for the January 2011 semester. The partnership gives the university the academic role while the JATC focuses on the hands-on training the industry is famous for providing to students.
For 2011, Local #41 earned $420,000 in contracts and partnerships to operate the program.
“It’s completely different from starting up the union any other place,” said Kevin Mulcahy, assistant director of organizing with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. “We’ve actually been very successful in getting partnerships and contracts.”
Courses are offered in air conditioning and refrigeration; testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB); welding; sheet metal; industrial refrigeration; industrial welding; water and air balancing; and building information modeling (BIM) software. Courses are a direct reflection of the industry in Puerto Rico today. Large office complexes and malls make TAB essential, and most of the members in Local #41 are individual contractors or own small companies dedicated to refrigeration and air conditioning, Mulcahy said.
“The focus on welding is because it’s known as a well paid profession with a lot of work possibilities. Because there is a lack of welders in the United States, we think our center is prepared to provide qualified and complete training to cover part of this demand,” said Alfredo Marí, business manager and JATC coordinator in Puerto Rico. “Refrigeration inPuerto Rico is the main trade due to the tropical conditions that we face. Everything on the island has to be refrigerated or air conditioned all year round.”
Although the unemployment rate inPuerto Ricois 16 percent, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, membership at Local #41 is a strong 97, and because of contracts with partners like the university, they will train 55 new members this year.
“Students are drawn to our program because of the quality of the training we offer and the promise that we’ll be able to find them a job as the economy grows,” Marí said. “Also, for the type of training that we provide, our facilities are competitive with the best in the island.”
The International Training Institute (best known as ITI) is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). ITI offers apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Alexandria,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 the International Training Institute, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200.