Future Ironworkers Learn by Doing: Inside One New Training Center

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 Maryland, about 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C. Less than a couple of years old, the chapter’s new facility is more than just the home to the Mid-Atlantic trade union.

The 52,000-square-foot structure in Largo, Md., 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.

“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 the tactile learning style, the workers still need to work methodically and understand mathematical concepts, such as 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 rotates to work in areas such as a unitized curtainwall mock-up, a two-story structural steel mock-up and even revolving door installations, so all apprentices can simulate work they will encounter on a jobsite, he says.

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 system that provides grants for training, and that’s where our involvement really comes in with the training,” he says.

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

“We can handle all the engineering, all the manufacturing, all the materials, all the supplies and get them to the field. Now, what do you do with it? 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 [safety] is open to risk,” says Victor Cornellier, the chairperson of the glazing company TSI Corps in Upper Marlboro, Md. Cornellier has also been actively involved in the Ironworkers organization, including having served as president of the Ironworkers Employers Association of Washington, D.C., a trustee on the Welfare and Pension Plans for Iron Workers Local Union #5 and a member of the IMPACT board of trustees.

“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. 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 says.

8G Solutions, Formerly JPI Glass, Opens New Office in Denver

Industry veterans Charles Mowrey and Craig Carson are working together—600 miles apart. Carson is heading up the new Denver operations for 8G Solutions, formerly JPI Glass, based in Riverside, Mo., where Mowrey serves as CEO. The new office space opened on July 1, 2021, with an additional office, warehouse and manufacturing center expected to open in January 2022.

According to Mowrey, the new location was a move that had been in the works since he joined then JPI in May 2019. As was the case with so many other businesses, the COVID pandemic forced the plans to pause.

He says that what was anticipated to just be six months to stabilize the acquisition in Kansas City and get a general manager in place “was put into limbo a little bit with a pandemic.”

Mowrey decided to start the new location roughly 600 miles away from the 8G Solutions’ headquarters because of Denver’s large growth market, non-union receptibility and lack of competition.

Carson (who is also a USGlass magazine columnist) runs the Denver office along with Joanie Brown, senior project manager, and Randi Walters, project engineer.

“I’ve known Craig Carson for a long time and he’s very well respected in our industry,” Mowrey says, explaining Carson hoped for a chance to “use all his career’s knowledge” to build something and lead the team. Mowrey had also known Brown since before the opening in Denver, as he introduced her to the aluminum and glass industry. Walters, who is Carson’s daughter, grew up in the trade.

Mowrey says they expect the location will have 12 office employees and 25 field employees by the end of 2022.

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