Sheet Metal International Training Institute navigates COVID-19 challenges through virtual learning

THE NEW NORMAL: The International Training Institute for the sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry held its first completely virtual course for instructors at the end of March. – ITI Institute photo

When stay-at-home orders went into effect because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March and classes across the country went online, field staff at the International Training Institute (ITI) for the sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry jumped into action.

That’s because the institute was scheduled to hold an in-person, week-long course called Fire Smoke Damper Technician and Fire Life Safety Level 2 at Sheet Metal Workers Local 88 in Las Vegas for instructors across the nation in just two weeks. Fortunately, it was a quick pivot for the ITI, which is the education arm of the industry.

ITI field staff instructors Lisa Davis and Darrell Garrison quickly transformed the content and held the institute’s first completely virtual instructors’ training course at its regularly scheduled time at the end of March. Although this level of virtual training is new, the ITI has offered partial online training for courses for years like Business Development, which is largely completed online but has an in-person component.

“I think the participants got just as much out of it as they would have received in person,” said Garrison, an ITI TAB and service specialist who is a 30-year member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36. “It happened pretty quick and had we not already had an online training portal, it would’ve been very different.”

The ITI implemented the flipped classroom, which requires participants to cover the content, complete its online classwork and reading, go through the student and instructor manuals and view required videos on their own time, said Davis.

The class met every day that week to review unit questions and go over discussion points, available resources, curricula planning, networking opportunities and legislation planning and strategy for fire life safety, she said.

“I think it was really successful, not just in spite of our current crisis situation, but also as a technique for learning in the future,” Davis said.

The main takeaway from the success of the online courses during the pandemic is that distance education works for the ITI.

“There’s a use for this,” said Len Liebert, ITI field staff. “Given the current situation, it’s opening people’s eyes.”

While participants in the class adjusted to working from home compared to their local classrooms, they agreed the platform worked for the course.

“I really like it,” said Craig Reehten, a Local 36 instructor who took part in the course.” We’re looking into implementing fire life safety into our curriculum, period. With what’s going on, it’s good to be able to keep up with classes.”

For the time being, online courses will be how the ITI keeps moving education forward for its members. In fact, the ITI has expanded its online course offerings enabling instructors, journeypersons and apprentices to learn new skills and stay abreast of the latest information and technologies.

While the online courses work for many in the industry, in-person, hands-on learning is still the norm for journeypersons and apprentices at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 in St. Louis.

For additional information on the ITI, visit the website at



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