What started out as a firm belief in the trade has blossomed into a national campaign and has taken Gary T. Smith of Thomas Phoenix International, Inc. from NJ to Kansas and ultimately to Washington, DC. In 2007, Gary met with his partners Eric Kay and Sean Smith and lamented the lack of structured training for workers in the Pre-engineered Steel Construction Industry. They decided to do something about it. If industry was not going to create an apprenticeship program, Thomas Phoenix International would. After a rocky start, they met Joanne Tomenchok, from the NJ Department of Labor, Area Manager, Apprenticeship.
Ms. Tomenchok was instrumental in researching the category. She determined that the DOL had a recognized Work Process for Assembler, MetalBuilding but there was no substance behind it, nor was anyone using it. Gary Smith fine-tuned the Work Process: increased hours, added classes, enhanced testing and put forward a plan for an Apprenticeship Program for Assembler, Pre-engineered Metal Buildings. This plan was endorsed by the NJ DOL in June of 2007 and 3 young men were immediately selected to begin their apprenticeship.
Training, Safety and Education are Gary Smith’s passion. He believes strongly that they are vital to the success of any Erector. His apprenticeship program was so well received that he needed to share it. Gary Smith wrote to his fellow MBCEA Chapter Presidents and offered to speak to their members about the success of his apprenticeship program. Response was overwhelming. Within weeks, he had requests from all over the country. He quickly realized this was big; it had major ramifications for the entire industry and needed to be handled properly.
Response was overwhelming because the typical contractor has little or no help to deal with training his workers, yet he has an ever increasing demand for better educated, better trained people. Safety Requirements are more and more critical and in many cases, mandatory. Contractors are dealing with this training gap on their own.
The US DOL describes registered apprenticeship as a “a voluntary industry-driven training program. The registered apprenticeship program can be a partnership of business and organized labor as the primary operators of programs, or implemented by employers or employer associations. Government plays a support role. The Office of Apprenticeship (OA) provides technical consultation services on the development of apprenticeship standards.
Employers or groups of employers and unions design, organize, manage, and finance registered apprenticeship programs under a set of apprenticeship standards, which include an on-the-job training outline, related classroom instruction curriculum and the apprenticeship operating procedures. These standards are then registered with the OA or an OA recognized State Apprenticeship Agency.”
Gary quickly realized there is strength in numbers: shared learning’s, best demonstrated practice, shared costs and a higher profile in the marketplace. The MBCEA and the MBI were formed to address exactly this type of need. It was time for Thomas Phoenix to enlist the support of the industry association best suited to champion and perfect the Assembler, Pre-engineered Metal Building Apprentice Program; namely the Metal Building Institute which is the educational affiliate for the Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association.
Next step was a meeting in Kansas with the Directors of the MBI and some interested contractors to discuss Smith’s idea for a nationally recognized apprenticeship program. Then on to Washington to the US Department of Labor. After many months and multiple re-writes, USDOL Bulletin 2010-9 was issued. (hyperlink to pdf)
The intrinsic benefits are many. Overall, apprentices in registered training programs know they have jobs in the future. By working for an employer who values lifelong learning, apprentices become invested in improving their skills and in achieving a Certificate of Completion which is a nationally recognized credential. Because apprentices not only learn the techniques of a trade but also understand why they do what they do, they become good problem solvers, work better as team members, and demonstrate better interpersonal skills. Apprentices become skilled, motivated craft workers with a strong work ethic who are well versed in company policy, who average better attendance, who possess the latest technological skills and who fill critical needs for skilled workers. Apprentices become skilled craft workers, flexible and productive, who are dedicated to the industry and the specific employer.
The Metal Buildings Institute has National Guidelines and Standards for an Apprenticeship Program for Assembler, Pre-engineered Metal Buildings authorized by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration Office of Apprenticeship (OA), Washington, D.C. Gary Smith, President of Thomas Phoenix International and Chairman of the MBI Apprenticeship Committee explained, “Although we have been assembling and erecting pre-engineered buildings for years now, our trade classification has never been formally recognized. Our skilled erectors are not really iron-workers, roofers or carpenters; they are Assemblers, Pre-engineered Metal Buildings. Now that the MBI National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards have been endorsed at the Federal level, the MBI is authorized to assist local independent contractors in implementing their own program.”