Apprenticeship instructors gather for training

Your tireless efforts don’t go unnoticed. Together we can build a brighter future.

Dan Sulivan, IVP-Great Lakes

IVP-GL Dan Sulivan participates in a group activity for the Four Lenses training in communications and teaching styles.

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The Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program assembled apprenticeship trainers for its third biennial National Instructor Conference in Oaklawn, Illinois, May 6-9. Throughout the conference, instructors from all U.S. sections engaged in hands-on experiences, which included interactive learning and exploring teaching tools and training product exhibits. Classes included bottle safety, updates on the Learning Management System, Helmets to Hardhats, first aid, an instructor forum and recruitment.

IVP-GL Dan Sulivan, one of the opening speakers, reminded instructors that their roles go beyond the shop. “Your tireless efforts don’t go unnoticed. Together we can build a brighter future.” 

And the National Instructor Conference is one step toward building a brighter future for the union.

In addition to breakout workshops, this year’s conference offered an opportunity for trainers to test for their forklift EPRI Certification. Trainers took a written test inside before going outside for a safety and skills test. Despite the soggy weather, many took advantage of the onsite testing. National Apprenticeship Coordinator Mark Wertz encouraged all instructors to get EPRI certified if they’re not already.

Wertz started the conference in 2018 with a goal of establishing more uniform training across the United States. “With the newer LMS classes, we want to get everyone on the same page on how to instruct it. And with this conference, recruitment is the focus,” said Wertz. 

Based on feedback from the last conference, Wertz added an instructor forum this year to give instructors a space to exchange ideas, offer motivation and share what has worked for them in teaching apprentices and what has fallen flat. 

Wertz said the conference wouldn’t happen without BNAP Technical Assistant Kathy McComb. “I can’t end this without recognizing someone who does everything,” he said.

The keynote speaker, Training Director for IBEW-NECA Technical Institute Gene Kent, made the connection between learning styles and effectively teaching apprentices. He told instructors that in addition to teaching the various hard skills needed in the trades, educating apprentices on life skills will help them succeed in the union. 

“When you don’t have life skills, you suffer in life,” Kent said. He noted that life is emotion-based and understanding how to deal with emotions—for example frustration on jobsite—can help facilitate a more successful career.

Understanding apprentices learning styles can also help instructors become more effective trainers and foster a more equitable, communicative environment during training and in the field. 

Kent said that leaders need to understand that “communicating isn’t about getting what we want, but giving the other person what they need. The natural tendency is asking ourselves what we need, so it takes effort to interact with others and see what they need.” 

Listening is important, and Mark Garrett, Director of Health and Safety and MOST Program Administrator, echoed this in his discussion about mental wellness. He said listening could include helping a brother or sister going through mental health challenges and told instructors to look for warning signs that someone is struggling. Those can include not showing up to work, failing at tasks a brother or sister has successfully accomplished before, withdrawing, increased use of alcohol and drugs, isolating from friends, fatigue and new or changed behavior. He said that someone struggling may talk about being trapped, failing others or wanting to exit life. 

“If anyone needs mental health resources, contact MOST,” Garrett said. “We have plenty of materials available.” 

He noted the union is working with the Construction Industry Roundtable to prevent construction suicides. They’re also working on including non-mandatory mental health training on the LMS.

The highlight of the conference for many was the opportunity to interact with other apprenticeship instructors to learn best practices and discover innovative solutions to better train apprentices. Instructors and apprenticeship coordinators also talked during meals, in the halls between sessions and during sessions to exchange ideas and best practices.

“I love the conference,” said Laura Bell, apprentice coordinator for the Lone Star District. “I’m so glad this year they added the instructor forum. That, I believe is going to grow, as this conference grows.”

At the conclusion of the conference, the following were announced as sectional winners for Outstanding Instructor of the Year:

Western States – Travis Lane, Local 242 (Spokane, Washington)

Northeast – John Williamson, Local 154 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Southeast – Joseph Umphrey, Local 108 (Birmingham, Alabama)

Great Lakes – Abe Inghram, Local 107 (Milwaukee)