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Minnesota sheet metal training center finds value in partnerships

Local 10 apprentice, St. Paul College grad Tim Baird wins 2nd place at SkillsUSA’s 48th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Two heads are commonly better than one, and in the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry, partnerships are better than going solo, especially in a still-recovering economy.

The training center out of Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 in White Bear Lake, Minn., has partnered with area colleges to ensure they receive the best and brightest applicants. The center also encouraged apprentices to participate in SkillsUSA, a professional development program that provides leadership and trade skills to high school and college students across the country. Affiliations like these provide the apprenticeship program with vetted individuals with some training and work ethic instilled.

“They’re professionals who show up with above entry-level skills,” said Buck Paulsrud, training coordinator at Local 10. “They have already invested in themselves and our industry.”

Local 10’s partnerships with area colleges go back decades. Secondary sheet metal programs, such as the yearlong program at St. Paul College, a community and technical college in St. Paul, Minn., provide students with education as well as a jumping-off point for those seeking a sheet metal apprenticeship. The education and training they receive during the college program weighs positively with the apprenticeship selection committee.

Partnerships don’t end with the colleges as SkillsUSA provides a similar win-win situation as students come to the apprenticeship with an interest in and some knowledge of the trade, leadership skills and work ethic.

This summer, Local 10 celebrated these partnerships with first-year apprentice Tim Baird’s second-place win at SkillsUSA’s 48th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference, where he competed in the sheet metal category against state winners from across the country and its territories. Baird, also a St. Paul College sheet metal program graduate, competed June 23-27 in Kansas City, where the contest attracted more than 15,000 participants, including students, teachers and business partners.

The competition put students of all ages to the test in their own skillset. Contestants complete a timed project where they are judged on everything from workmanship to leadership. The conference attracts the best of the best from throughout the country and competition is fierce.

“It shows you where you are at with the other competitors, and that was a good thing. What I’ve learned, I showed there,” Baird said of his experience. “You know where you are with that stuff when you go that far. It’s really eye opening.”

Baird came to Local 10 through St. Paul College and finished first in his class of 20. Before graduation, he was offered a job as a union apprentice. This feeder program, as well as that of other area colleges, has benefits other than an almost-guaranteed admission to apprenticeship.

Once graduates apply and are accepted into the apprenticeship program, they are awarded credit for their diploma. Apprentices work during their training, and those with a diploma also enter at a higher pay rate, Paulsrud said.

“In the 12 years I’ve been a training coordinator, St. Paul College sheet metal has sent us 400 graduates; 397 were accepted and became apprentices,” Paulsrud said. “This partnership goes back until at least the 1960s. It has a long, rich history.”

Throughout their coursework at St. Paul College, the union touches base to get students on the right track to apprenticeship. Compared to someone who applies for apprenticeship off the street, St. Paul College sheet metal graduates bring a higher level of skill from the start.

For Baird, who worked for his father’s HVAC company as well as at an engineering firm completing mechanical design work, being an apprentice and getting out of the office, was something he sorely needed.

“The office wasn’t for me. I’m still young,” said Baird, 29. “I wanted to get back into the field.”

The partnership brought to Local 10 an apprentice who is confident in his skills and who employers can trust before he even begins his first year of formal union education.

“Their diploma says a lot to our employers,” Paulsrud said. “This person has already proven himself in a college system and has proven himself to the instructor who is a member of Local 10 and knows what our employers need.”

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at training facilities in the United States and Canada. The International Training Institute (ITI) is jointly sponsored by Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA) 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 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 ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703.739.7200.

Those interested in SkillsUSA can visit the website at www.skillsusa.org.