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Construction Apprenticeship Idea: 'Build People' as Well as Buildings

In Oklahoma City, the sheet metal industry is trying a new approach to educating the apprentices who are building careers. It's working!


Oklahoma City, OK -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/13/2015 --Most construction apprenticeships share a decades-old approach: On-the-job training and classroom work are mandatory; a specified number of hours of each precede an apprentice's graduation to journeyman status.

But – in an industry whose traditions originated with the building of the pyramids – what worked yesterday might not be the best approach today. In Oklahoma City, Okla., the organized sheet metal industry is working on a new and different approach.

"What it boils down to is, here, we're not just building buildings," explained Nic Bittle, the consultant spearheading the project. "We're also building people."

Changes involve instructing the apprentices, and interacting with them, in a curriculum that seeks to address their mindset . . . personal skills (to accompany the jobsite skills they must learn). Instruction comes via two brief online sessions each month and face-to-face meetings.

Why change now? Bob Demechko, a member of SMART Local Union 124 who serves on the area's apprenticeship committee, explained: "What I did 15 years ago isn't really relevant. We've got people now who think differently than we perhaps did. The goal is the same: To produce the best sheet metal worker out there.

"But now, to communicate with and help them, you've got to approach it differently." Demechko is shop and field superintendent for Harrison Orr Air Conditioning.

Bittle's concept avoids long lectures. "We don't want to be throw out a lot of ideas all at once, in a three-hour lecture, and then expect the apprentices to change overnight," he said. "We are trying to give the apprentices exactly what they need in terms of information and education, in bits and pieces – precisely when they need it."

Is this new approach working? Most of those concerned with the new Oklahoma City program answer "it's really too soon to tell." It originated in the past year with training specifically targeted at apprentices in each of the four years of the area's four-year apprenticeship program.

However, Nathan Dills, owner of ACP Sheet Metal, said he already has seen positive results: "One of the subjects tackled in this first year was money management, something we typically don't talk about," explained Dills, who is also a member of the local apprenticeship committee.

"Now several have opened their first savings accounts. A few have talked about the efforts they are putting in to get their families to live within a budget – something younger people don't routinely do, in any generation."

Added Bittle: "We are challenging them to think about the ideas we're introducing to them. For the industry and for the apprentices, this is not an 'easy fix' of any kind. On the other hand, it provides a long-term benefit – kind of like eating your vegetables!"

Additional info:

Article on OKC apprenticeship – see p23-24 of this 28p PDF:
Innovative program launched in Oklahoma City:
SNIPS magazine article on OKC apprenticeship:

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) have a labor-management partnership that is more than 75 years old. The goal is to maintain an effective cooperative effort that demonstrates Expertise in the industrial and architectural sheet metal and heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) markets. SMART and SMACNA publish Partners in Progress magazine. For additional information, visit