Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 training program back on track after pandemic disruption



60 PERCENT of the training at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Apprenticeship and Training Center involves a hands-on aspect, which made virtual learning nearly impossible. Here, apprentices Zack Etherton (left) and Ben Archibee work on the shop floor where they are socially distanced and both wearing masks. – Labor Tribune photo

While online learning may be the new norm for the students because of the coronavirus pandemic, that’s definitely not the case for apprentices and journeypersons at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 in St. Louis.

St. Louis City COVID-19 mandates forced the Local 36 Apprenticeship and Training Center to shut down the second week of March, said Local 36 Training Director Joe Kehder. The center was able to reopen on June 1, although things look a lot different.

“We’re as back to normal as we can be,” Kehder told the Labor Tribune. “We’ve implemented all the Centers for Disease Control protocol and the city’s mandates related to COVID-19 pandemic.”

Kehder said the center considered virtual training, but since the majority of what is taught at the school involves a hands-on aspect, distance learning wasn’t an option.

“While on-line training might work for a limited amount of coursework, about 60 percent of our training is hands-on and that can’t be taught virtually,” he said.

The new guidelines to enter the Local 36 Apprenticeship and Training Center include answering two sheets of questions related to  COVID-19 and a temperature scan. Once in the building, masks are required to be worn at all times and six feet of social distance is enforced between members.

LOCAL 36 APPRENTICES perform a combustion analysis of gas furnaces at the Apprenticeship and Training Center, where 60 percent of all learning involves an in-person, hand-on aspect. – Labor Tribune photo

“Normally, we have between 10 and 12 students in each class,” Kehder said. “We’ve cut that down to five members per class, and everything gets disinfected on a regular basis.”

While attending classes in-person is a must for apprentices and journeypersons at Local 36, the Sheet Metal International Training Institute (ITI), the training arm of the unionized sheet metal industry, has embraced online learning.

In fact, the ITI has expanded its online course offerings to enable instructors, journeypersons and apprentices to learn new skills and stay abreast of the latest information and technologies. However, a technicality in local law prohibits Local 36 members from earning professional education credit for those courses.

CLASS SIZE has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic at Sheet Metal Workers Local 36. Normally, each class consists of between 10 and 12 students, but the number of students has been cut down to allow for proper social distancing. Here, Local 36 Instructor Mark Carron teaches welding to a class of four apprentices. – Labor Tribune photo

Jeff Bradley, Local 36 vice president and full-time instructor, explained that in order for the class to count toward a Local 36 member’s St. Louis County mechanical license, it must have an in-person component.

“To get their professional education credit, members have to have an in-person contact for a course, which isn’t possible with a virtual course,” he said. “And to get the St. Louis City mechanical license, you have to have the St. Louis County mechanical license. They basically piggyback off each other.”

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