Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 101 instructor featured in USA Today

Missouri Correspondent


Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 101’s Rachel LeBlance, an instructor in the United Associations (UA) Veterans in Piping (VIP) program, was recently featured in USA Today.

The article focused on five union-sponsored apprenticeship programs for veterans, including the UA’s VIP program, which LaBlance joined after serving eight years as a U.S. Marine, working as an aircraft mechanic.

“When I was transitioning out of the Marines, I knew joining the UA’s VIP program was what I wanted to do,” LeBlance said. “I absolutely love the VIP program because it gives me the opportunity to do what I enjoy and be around a brotherhood. There’s no other job in the world – other than the Marines – that offers that the comradary.”

The VIP Program prepares transitioning service members for careers in the pipe trades through an 18-week course in one of three specializations: heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration; welding; and fire suppression.

After completing the program, graduates earn industry-recognized certifications and receive guaranteed job placement through a registered apprenticeship program. More than 3,000 veterans have graduated from the program since it was established in 2008.

After completing the VIP program, LeBlance joined Local 101 as an apprentice. Her love of welding began while she was in high school taking a class in auto shop.

“Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 101 could not be more proud of what Rachel has accomplished in such a short time in the trade,” said Rich Fuess, Local 101 training coordinator. “She was very driven to succeed in the pipefitting industry and during her apprenticeship, she took advantage of every learning experience that was offered to her and excelled as an apprentice.”

Once LeBlance’s apprenticeship was complete, she jumped right back into helping the union as a welding instructor, Fuess explained. Then, the UA recruited her to return as an instructor with the VIP program.

“The trades need more members like Rachel, who take advantage of all the training that is available and becomes active in the locals to help them grow and prosper,” Fuess said.

Navy veteran and UA Training Specialist Mike Hazard explained to USA Today that the program was needed to give military service members a leg up.

“By getting these folks trained and certified, we create a seamless transition from the military… which means there’s no chance for the downward spiral that can happen when service members go into the civilian job market,” Hazard said in the article.

And LeBlance agreed.

“When you’re transitioning out of the military, it’s a scary time. The VIP program gives you a plan,” LaBlance told USA Today.

For more information on the VIP program, visit

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