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News & Press: FOCUS

A Commitment to Developing Skilled Trades Workers

Wednesday, September 6, 2017  
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One of the greatest challenges our region faces in the next several years is the ability to attract and retain the talent needed to fill jobs that are available. This is particularly true in industries that rely on skilled or professional trades workers. The chronic shortage of skilled labor causes delays in many projects, raises costs that are ultimately passed on to the customers, and in many cases causes business owners to seek workers from outside the region.

The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 333 is one organization attempting to deal with the demand for skilled trades workers. Working in partnership with more than 40 area businesses, Local 333 is filling the skilled trades pipeline as a result of a comprehensive apprentice training program.

United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 333 Board of Directors. Left to Right: Trent Mauk (Training Coordinator), Kevin Dettling (Management Trustee-Limbach Mechanical), Price Dobernick (Local 333 Business Manager), Larry Gunthorpe ( Management Trustee- Gunthorpe Plumbing and Heating), Charlie Brannick (Management Trustee-Bengal Plumbing), Chris Keck (Labor Trustee-Local 333 Business Agent). Trustees not in the picture: Jeff Diegle-John E Green Company, Joe Michilizzi-Local 333 and Judd VanCoppenolle- Local 333.

At any given time, 90 to100 area residents will be receiving job training through the apprenticeship program. Local 333 self-funds the program to the tune of $1 million dollars a year with no public funds involved. The application process for the program is regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor, which ensures a diverse pool of participants.

“Our doors are wide open for all people,” said Price Dobernick, business manager of Local 333. “We want to do all we can to get the best, most diverse group of apprentices possible.”

Participants in the five-year program attend classes for eight hours a day, two days a month. The classes are held at one of three training centers. Local 333 owns facilities in Jackson (primarily HVAC training) and Lansing (primarily plumbing, pipefitting and welding) and leases space in Battle Creek. When not in class, apprentices are working on a job site, earning wages and benefits while receiving on-the-job training.

“You start earning a living on day one of your apprenticeship,” said Dobernick. “Part of that is health benefits and retirement. There aren’t many opportunities like this where you can receive training and make a living like this at the same time.”

Because Local 333 is able to fund the program, there is no cost to the apprentices.

“There are no student loans when you graduate,” said Dobernick. “You walk away without any debt.”

Apprentices also learn on the job under the careful tutelage of a journeyman, who Dobernick says take great pride in being able mentor their young colleagues.

The Local 333 training centers also offer workers the opportunity to receive continuing education required to maintain certifications and also provides training in other fields including computer animated design (CAD) and medical gas certification.

The success of the Local 333 apprenticeship program is best evidenced in the satisfied employers that continue to participate. Many of the more than 40 businesses regularly involved have participated for several decades. For the apprentices graduating into the workforce, the future is bright. Pay for skilled trades positions is quite high and their skills will be in demand.

“There is a particularly high demand right now for welders and HVAC certified workers,” said Dobernick. “This is a market where if you have those skills, you can pretty much write your own ticket.”

Click here to download the September issue of FOCUS.

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