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BNAP hosts first-ever National Instructor Conference

“We’re here to provide the best information to take back to the membership, to the apprentices and the journeymen, so we can provide better quality craftsmen for the trade — so they can go out there and capture the work we’re trying to get and protect the work we already have.”
— Mark Wertz, BNAP National Coordinator

Mark Wertz, BNAP NC, welcomes instructors to the inaugural National Instructor Conference.

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Topic experts, hands-on demos lead to high-energy, intensive learning

A NEW TRAINING format brought more than 60 instructors together for a conference in Chicago this past May for three high-energy days of interactive classes, tool and product demonstrations, idea-sharing and even a field trip to nearby Local 374 (Hammond, Indiana) for a close-up look at its blacksmithing operation.

While ongoing training has always been an important component to keep instructors updated and their skills honed, the idea for a National Instructor Conference grew from a need for equal access to uniform, quality information and new concepts the instructors, in turn, can apply consistently at all local apprenticeship programs.

“This concept actually came from the instructor training we had a year earlier [at various regional apprentice locations]. Many of you attended those, and when you filled out your survey forms, you said you wanted more training — and that was across the board for everyone,” Boilermaker National Apprenticeship Program (BNAP) National Coordinator Mark Wertz told instructors during his welcoming remarks. “We’re here to provide the best information to take back to the membership, to the apprentices and the journeymen, so we can provide better quality craftsmen for the trade — so they can go out there and capture the work we’re trying to get and protect the work we already have.”

Instructors network, learn from industry experts

CONFERENCE PLANNERS ORGANIZED instructors into four groups that rotated through classes and demonstrations together. Wertz explained that each group was intentionally mixed to include instructors from different areas of the United States as a way of promoting new interactions and exchange of ideas.

Another priority was for instructors to gain insight directly from subject experts. Classes included: Recruiting and Outreach with Director of National Recruiting Services, Tim Simmons; Helmets to Hardhats with H2H Executive Director Darrell Roberts; Safety, led by Mark Garrett, Director of Health and Safety Services; Torch Safety led by AirGas, Inc. Construction Specialist Dale Breckinridge; MOST with (pre-retirement) MOST Programs Administrator Skipper Branscum; an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) overview by EPRI Project Coordinator Patty Wade; and demos by RedVector, Dewalt Tools, B&B Pipe and Industrial Tools, and Kelly Press.

Simmons urges instructors to raise bar on recruiting

WITH RECRUITING A priority under the International’s M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund initiative, Tim Simmons (Director of National Recruitment Services and Director of Construction Division Services) pushed instructors to raise the bar on their efforts.

“Recruiting is critical to the health and survival of our Brotherhood and our craft,” he said, “and instructors are on the front line.”

In their recruitment role, Boilermaker instructors should be reaching out to trade schools, high schools and career centers, Simmons said. “Make your presence known. Get on the advisory boards of welding schools where you live. Let them know the Boilermaker trade is alive and well and we still need people.”

He stressed that to recruit successfully, instructors should be able to articulate the advantages of being a union member and a Boilermaker apprentice. “Know the value of your total package. The value of wages and benefits exceeds what non-union contractors pay in wages and per diem. At the end of your career, you’ll be living on much more than Social Security. The non-union worker can’t say that. And there’s more than just the money and benefits — it’s the security and pride in belonging to a great organization and people who take care of each other.”

“Recruiting is critical to the health and survival of our Brotherhood and our craft, and instructors are on the front line.”
— Tim Simmons, D-NRS, D-CDS

Simmons told the instructors, “Every member has a responsibility to recruit. You are obligated for recruiting at least two people: one to replace yourself with another qualified union Boilermaker when you retire, the other to grow your union. The people you bring in and train will be paying your pension going forward. What will the organization be like in 20 or 30 years if we don’t replace our skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen and women with people who have the skills and work ethic that we have?”

Interactive, hands-on sessions engage active learning

Among other conference highlights were Torch Safety, where presenter Dale Breckinridge of AirGas brought science and math to life, as he presented the “why” behind safety practices and passed around cross sections and parts; and Kelly Press’s hands-on virtual reality demo. An aerial lift simulator put VR-goggled participants on a platform replicating the sights and other sensations of operating a lift safely and going through a series of maneuvers. The safer the aerial lift simulator session, the more points a participant earned. To add some friendly competition, Kelly offered a prize to the top score at the end of the conference.

Kelly’s Ken Rogers explained that while virtual reality and augmented reality (another form of simulation) are fun and operate not unlike video games, they are a practical and portable way to practice in a safe environment — and they are a great way to attract young, potential Boilermaker talent.

“The 13- and 14-year-olds are using this now,” Rogers said. “They are the people you’ll be recruiting!”

Hands-on competition was also the theme for vendor Lifting Gear Hire, who set up a chain-fall challenge, offering a prize to the fastest chain-fall time of the week. During breaks and “passing time” between classes, instructors tried to improve their times.

Post-conference surveys provided helpful feedback to improve on the inaugural event and confirmed the conference was valuable to the instructors who attended. Plans call for the National Instructor Conference to be repeated every other year.

Wertz summed up the purpose of the first National Instructor Conference, telling the instructors:  “As a local instructor, apprentices look to you as a mentor. The focus is, how can we advance the membership, how do we create a better member, for the trade and for us, the Boilermakers? We can come up with all these ideas and suggestions to make things better, but it only works when you, the instructors, present the ideas. I want you to understand how important you are and why we’re doing this for you.”