President's Corner

 

January 2020 Training: A Core Principle

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President’s Corner

In some of my recent columns, I have reflected on the vast array of services we perform for our members, the construction industry and the public, but I’d like to focus on just one this month—training.

Coming away from another application period in November, our training is particularly front-of-mind right now. For the third year in a row, around 5,000 people came to the events throughout our jurisdiction to request applications. It not only speaks to the demand for stable jobs that provide good benefits, but also to the reputation Local 150 has built for providing the kind of training that makes the difference between a job and a career; between a construction worker and an operating engineer.

As a highly-skilled trade union, providing world-class training for our members and the industry is one of the most important responsibilities we have. Second perhaps only to organizing, our efforts to maximize the skill level of the industry truly shape the construction market. And of course, to be able to negotiate the contracts that we’ve secured over the years, we must be able to demonstrate that our members are worth every penny they earn – often several times the pay that non-union equipment operators will accept.

Looking back just over a decade, I can still remember the skepticism of many members about setting aside a one-percent dues assessment to build a new training facility. There were many who thought that our old location was enough, or that a comparatively huge piece of land and Training Center were unnecessary. The driving force behind the Training Center was its namesake, former President-Business Manager Bill Dugan. He knew that the future of our union would be dependent on being a national leader in training, and history has proven him right.

When the residential construction market dried up only a few years later, we were able to retool our membership’s skill set to paving and infrastructure work. Our training program allows us to adapt to the construction market, because to expect the opposite would be reckless and foolish.

Even with full employment and growing man-hours, the use of the Training Center has never been higher. In the past three years, the amount of training hours has doubled. Part of this is the number of apprentices we’ve brought in over the past few years. We currently have more than 500, which dwarfs any other local in our International Union.

Perhaps even more important, however, is the growing use of the Training Center by journeymen and women. Despite the good economy and work situation, our members recognize that employability is directly dependent on skill, and the training fields have been full day and night. I can remember when we used to have a “training season” that lasted the winter. When classes wrapped up, the parking lot would be half full at best throughout the summer. Those days are gone. Our Training Center is full tilt all year long now, and we are now sending hundreds of apprentices and members to the International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas.

Thank God for that facility, by the way, because without it, we would truly be struggling for space and equipment to do all the training we need. In a facility that many members said we would never grow in to.

As so many of you know, when a member calls the Training Center, our staff does what it takes to give that member what he or she needs. If we don’t have the equipment, we rent it. If we don’t have a class, we create one. If there isn’t demand for a class, we’ll do one-on-one training. We have a responsibility to you to ensure that if you need skills to provide for your family, we will make it happen, no matter what it takes.

Growth and success is not without its challenges, however. Twice as much training costs twice as much money. Between equipment, fuel, and the staff that it takes to provide both the number of classes and the manageable class sizes that make our program successful, our training budget has been exceeded for several years now.

Again, it is important to remember that training is not an expense, but an investment. Overseeing the financials for an organization of this size, I am no stranger to making cuts and finding places to save money. Training is not the place to pinch pennies. ASIP Coordinator Brian Roland and his staff have done a tremendous job of running the Training Center about as efficiently as it possible can be, but the idea of scaling back or limiting the training we provide in order to save money would be short-sighted and a disservice to our membership.

When contract allocations are made this year, we will be particularly focused on providing the Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement Program the necessary resources to continue to be the biggest asset our members have. If anyone out there doubts the importance of this investment, I can only assume you haven’t been out to the Training Center recently. Sign up for a class or just check out a piece of equipment when you’re not working. You’ll not only remember that training is the lifeblood of our union, but also that it is the demonstration of our commitment to one another’s wellbeing.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.