A Different Kind of Classroom for Future Ironworkers

Four years, 800 hours in a classroom and 8,000 hours practicing and working with your hands.

That’s the formula for becoming an Iron Worker apprentice.

Chartered in 1901, the Iron Workers Local 5 Union is based in Largo, Md., about 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C. Less than a couple of years old, the facility is more than just the home to the Mid-Atlantic trade union.

The 52,000 square foot structure consists of classrooms, welding and training stations, mock-ups and even a five-ton overhead crane.

Members of the organization stress that a key factor that makes the new facility so impactful is that it gives dozens of apprentices the opportunity to work with their hands, not exclusively from a classroom.

“Our curriculum is 70% hands-on and 30% book-work and classroom training,” says Aaron Bast, business manager at Local 5.

Despite the emphasis of a tactile learning style, the workers still need to work methodically and understand mathematical concepts, like in high-angle rescue training, where objects need to be lifted levelly despite having an unequal center of gravity.

The training center in the facility is made up of stations, says Gary Armstrong, apprenticeship director. Each group will rotate to work on a unitized curtainwall mock-up, a two-story structural steel mock-up and even handling revolving door installations, so every apprentice can simulate work they would encounter on a job site, he said.

The Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) also gives apprentices on the campus the chance to work and make a meaningful living.
IMPACT is “the labor-management arm for the contractors and is funded by the contractors,” says Kenny Waugh, director of industry liaison for IMPACT.

“We started a grant system, where we take [a certain amount of funds] that are available for grants, and that’s where our involvement really comes in with the training… One of the biggest things we have to sell with the Iron Workers is our training, they’re actually funded through IMPACT. They get their budget from us every year,” he said.

Contract glazing companies involved with the organization agree that having a training facility like the Local 5’s is a big benefit. Glazing Contractor also recognizes the value of a properly trained ironworker.

“We can handle all the engineering, all the manufacturing, all the material, all the supply and get it to the field. Now, what do you do with it? So, we need to have trained personnel able to layout buildings dimensionally, unload material, hoist it and install it in very extreme hazardous conditions — if they aren’t trained adequately, their personal injury is open to risk,” says Victor Cornellier, who serves as board chair of contract glazing company TSI Corps and is also heavily involved with the Iron Workers.

“The Iron Workers have a great reputation for training safety and complying and implementing safety standards and utilizing them,” adds Cornellier. “So safety is the driver, along with the technical knowledge they gain right here, and these training classes in the field and in their apprenticeship duration. But without them, we can’t survive… our success is really predicated on the success of the people in the field. And that’s why we’ve been a union contractor going on 45 years now,” he said.

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