Construction Unions Focus on Flagship Facilities for Training

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By Elliott T. Dube

If you build a state-of-the-art construction union training center, members will come from far and wide.

Some building trades unions have taken the expensive but potentially advantageous step of consolidating their training operations at a regional or even national level. These centers offer education on cutting-edge construction technologies and other industry advancements that locals might not have the resources to showcase.

Case in point: The Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters is set to finish building a major training center next to its headquarters in Edison, N.J., by year-end.

The regional council has invested about $30 million in the center, which will be the hub for training the approximately 1,500 registered carpenter apprentices in New Jersey when it opens at the start of 2018, Executive Secretary-Treasurer John Ballantyne told Bloomberg BNA. The union sees its training and apprenticeship programs as its “jewel,” he said.

It’s probably one of the biggest things that we recognize that’s going to take our organization and keep it in the forefront of being able to supply very qualified labor to job sites as we move forward in the construction industry,” Ballantyne said.

The regional council modeled its Edison center after the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ International Training Center in Las Vegas, he said. That 1.2 million-square-foot building sits on a 27-acre campus. The facility includes 70 classrooms and more than 300 guest rooms. About 15,000 Carpenters members travel there annually for leadership training programs, according to the Las Vegas center’s website.

The Las Vegas center also provided some inspiration for a major facility being built by the International Union of Operating Engineers: a roughly $150 million International Training and Education Center in the Houston area, the IUOE’s communication director, Jay Lederer, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Tens of billions of dollars of work” has been set in motion on the Gulf Coast, especially in the oil and gas industry, Lederer said. “So there already is and there’s going to be even more need for skilled operators down there, and there isn’t a lot of training infrastructure in the South, as much as we’d like to have,” he said.

Lederer spoke to Bloomberg BNA before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, devastating Houston and other Gulf Coast areas. Construction of the IUOE training center started in July 2016, and it had been set to open in early 2018.

“Everything held up very well” at the training center construction site in the storm’s wake, as all drainage was already in place and the building was enclosed, Lederer said following the storm. “I wish we could say as much for the surrounding community,” he said.

State-of-the-Art Features

In designing the center, the IUOE gathered a “blue ribbon panel” of training directors from its locals to create a “wish list” of features they would include, Lederer said.

“Before we moved any dirt, we had all this input from our locals, took all their best practices, all their best advice,” he said. “So it’s definitely from the ground up in design, in focus.”

The facility will include built-in redundancy for key operations to allow for a higher level of hands-on training. “You have two of everything, so you can take an HVAC system offline and work on it in real-world conditions while the other system is still running the facility,” Lederer said.

The center will use its outdoor 225-acre property for pipeline, crane, and heavy equipment training.

Carpenters’ Facility ‘On Par’ With College

Meanwhile, the Carpenters regional council’s center in Edison will be of a smaller scale but will still take up two stories and 100,000 square feet. Three quarters of that space will be dedicated to hands-on training, including welding booths and a fully equipped cabinet shop. The remaining space is for 13 classrooms supporting state-of-the-art audiovisual technology and a 300-seat auditorium.

“The biggest thing right now is we never had a lecture hall in any of the facilities where we can create an opportunity for our apprentices to all go through a major orientation so that there’s one clear, concise, congruent message,” Ballantyne said.

The center will also offer members experience with building information modeling and “total station” construction layout technologies, among other recent industry advances. The facility will help house what the union sees as “almost a formal education in the construction industry, on par with any college or university out there,” Ballantyne said.

Bricklayers Hub in Use for Decade

Another building trades union, the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, has experience operating a national-scale training facility: the John J. Flynn BAC/IMI International Training Center in Bowie, Md.

The complex has more than 240,000 square feet of space, including a two-story training center and a three-story conference center. It has been a “good promotional tool” for the Bricklayers since opening in 2007, said Bob Arnold, the national training director at the International Masonry Institute. The IMI is a strategic alliance between the union and the contractors that employ its members.

A contractor in the process of becoming unionized can learn about the union’s training operations at the center, Arnold told Bloomberg BNA. A building material manufacturer can bring a new product to the center for testing, he added. He also referenced a March 2016 visit by then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez to announce the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final rule on silica exposure.

One of the center’s primary purposes is to “train the trainers,” as union instructors from across the U.S. and Canada arrive there each fall for a certification program, Arnold said. At the other end of the experience scale, the center also hosts pre-apprenticeship programs in which future apprentices stay in the center’s dormitories for eight weeks before returning to their locals, he said.

The center offers training for specific systems that might not be available at members’ locals—for instance, rainscreen walls, which have been “catching on really quick” in recent years, Arnold said. In rainscreen systems, a ventilated space separates an exterior siding layer and an inner structural wall and helps to drain or dry out moisture that penetrates the siding.

“The contractors come to us and say, ‘Hey, we need some training in rainscreen walls,’” he said. “So we’ll do a prototype of training here first before we release it to the centers around the country.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elliott T. Dube in Washington at edube@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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