"Most apprenticeship programs try to mold a well-rounded sheet metal worker," says Larry Lawrence, regional director for ITI and former training director for the Denver area. "But we [ITI] let the apprentice pick their career path." Lawrence says that if an individual wants to become a welder, he or she can focus on the industrial part of the sheet metal industry and get certified by the American Welding Society. "The same goes for refrigeration, air conditioning or any of our other areas of interest," Lawrence says.
Rather than concentrate on one area of expertise, such as refrigeration, welding or air conditioning, the program encourages students to branch out, acquiring skills from a number of different backgrounds. "You can actually work in and around different industries as things in the job market pick up," he adds. "We're trying to make these people experts in more than one part of the industry. It's like college; you get to pick your major."
Alan Still, training director of the apprenticeship school, works with ITI and the Sheet Metal Workers Union 85 in Atlanta. After completing a three-week concentrated welding program at a nuclear power plant in the Atlanta area, Still notes finding work can be a struggle for many in the sheet metals industry. Although it is not a robust job market, Still is recruiting potential metals workers interested in future opportunities.
According to Still, the need for welders is on the rise in the Atlanta area. Other companies are seeking qualified and certified welders for future projects. "Our training center has shifted its focus as we hear about more companies wanting welders," he says. "We just completed a renovation of a welding lab to accommodate training needed to complete local projects and work for power plants in the Georgia area."
Sometimes workers find they must relocate to find work. ITI allows students to begin studying in one area and complete their studies in a different city. While the ability to transfer is not new for ITI, today's market leaves many students looking for work elsewhere. "You can pick up where you left off with your studies in a completely different part of the country," Lawrence says. "Transferability is key."
Acquire a trade and a degree
"In Denver, students actually get paid to go to school," Lawrence says. "They're getting paid the same amount of money they would on the job while they're in class. There's a clause in the federal standards. If you're training, you can draw from unemployment while you're attending classes." The process is especially attractive because tuition is free and ITI has articulation agreements with local community colleges in the area. "So students get college credits for free towards an associates degree," he adds. "If you graduate, we're affiliated with the American Council on Education, and they've looked at our curriculum. If a student completes a program, they will give them 56 credits at an accredited community college." Students then can take any general class requirements and complete their degree before they leave.
Such an offering is an allure for parents who want their children to have a college degree. "We find a lot of students graduate our program and want to go to college but now have a career to fall back on--as opposed to being a waiter," Lawrence adds. MM