Iowa unions, schools taking a proactive approach to training

Ten students from Saydel High School's construction shop class have entered a pilot program that will allow them direct entry into United Association Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 33 once they graduate.

By Bob Vavra September 28, 2009

Located on the northern edge of Des Moines, Saydel High School is a small but progressive school with big goals. Working with a local labor union, the school has implemented a program that will prepare students to enter high-demand careers shortly after graduation.
Ten students from Saydel High School’s construction shop class have entered a pilot program that will allow them direct entry into United Association Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 33 once they graduate. As Local 33 apprentices, they will receive training in plumbing, heating, air conditioning, medical gas, high purity piping, water treatment, and other specialties.
"The school administration is excited about the project," said Greg Foshe, Business Manager of Local 33. "They even made changes to the high school curriculum to fit the union’s basic math and science requirements." Saydel High School currently has 510 students attending grades 9 through 12.

Fast-track education
Foshe stated that the goal of this program is to bring people into the union at a younger age. "When students go from high school directly into their trade," he said, "they are going from learning situation to learning situation, creating a fast-track educational experience."
Local 33 has signed an articulation agreement with Des Moines Area Community College, in conjunction with Iowa Workforce Development, that will allow pre-apprentice students to get credit toward an associate’s degree, Foshe added.
Linda Phillips, an independent contractor with Career and Life Transition Counseling, brokered the agreement between Saydel High School and Local 33. According to Phillips, the fact that high school students can enter apprenticeships right after their high school training is a definite plus. "I hope this trend will spread to other high schools in Iowa," she said.
Phillips noted that this program will help students to stay engaged in their continuing education. "It gives them potential goals to aim at, with very attainable results," she said. "It provides them with mentors, directional leadership, and contacts for getting involved with the business community. It’s real, rigorous, relevant and rational."

Hands-on experience
"Students who enter this program will look at different areas of plumbing, heating and cooling, as well as electrical work and some carpentry," said John Oatts, Training Director of Local 33. "During the program, the students will spend a lot of time at the union training school, so they can see and experience what we do in our classroom and shop." Electricity and carpentry are part of the students’ training, he added, because these trades often work together.
If a student enters and passes the program, those over age 18 can gain direct entry into the pre-apprentice program, said Oatts. "They can be a pre-apprentice for a couple months or a year before becoming an apprentice," he explained. "They will go through interviews and a review process through the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. The highest ranking scores will become apprentices the soonest. In this program, you get out of it what you put into it."
In the union’s five-year program, apprentices spend 246 hours in classroom training and 1,700 to 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with contractors. "Working with the contractors provides apprentices with the hands-on experience they need to excel in real-world situations," Foshe said.
Once high school students graduate and enter the program, Foshe explained, they will get first-year apprentice wages and a basic health care plan. "Not all students wish to pursue a college education," he said, "but they do want stable, rewarding careers. If they decide to enter construction careers that require a college education, they will have the option to follow that path. They can get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree if they keep up with it."

A vision for the future
"Saydel High School is taking a pro-active stance toward the future of their students," Foshe said, "and we’re proud to be a part of their vision."
Foshe mentioned that many of the students in the program have close relatives in the building trades. "We’re happy to help these young people to continue in the footsteps of family role models," he said.
According to Oatts, Local 33 currently has 230 apprentices, between 19 and 45 years old, and the average age is mid- to late-twenties. Last year they added 60 apprentices. Graduates of the apprenticeship program become journeymen plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, HVAC technicians, building automation technicians, and refrigeration specialists.
"These are good, secure jobs," Oatts said. "You can’t outsource what we do. Once you learn a five-year trade, you have a career for as long as you want."
For more information, visit Local Union 33 online at .