By Maureen Werther
For the 450 members of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 773, the outlook regarding the future of jobs is good. Its state-of-the-art training center in Queensbury continues to prepare journeymen for the fast-growing list of jobs in and around the region, union officials said.
Located at 37 Luzerne Road in Queensbury, the team of expert instructors and support staff at Local 773 serves seven counties that span from Saratoga County to the Canadian border. They provide qualified pipefitters, welders, plumbers, HVAC workers and fire-suppression experts to industries ranging from commercial and light industrial to high-tech companies such as GlobalFoundries.
The $5-million facility was built in response to the rapid increase in apprenticeships the union experienced seven years ago, officials said. It was located on Bluebird Road in South Glens Falls but was no longer able to accommodate the union’s growing membership.
“Our members decided to invest in growing,” said Nelson Charron, marketing representative for Local 773 and longtime member of the union.
Purchase of the land and construction of the facility was completely funded by the union’s membership and they take a lot of pride in their new facility.
Brian Kill, another longtime member of Local 773, who recently joined the support staff as a business agent, said when he started in the plumbing trades, the level of training and the equipment available was far different than it is today.
The new facility has six classrooms, an 18-booth fully LEED green-certified welding room, and a fully functional Class 100 clean room. STEM plays a critical role in the training program and Charron said that he is increasingly recruiting apprentices from colleges, because the profession is becoming so technical.
“We have two or three members with master’s degrees and a math teacher who decided not to pursue teaching. It all goes back to STEM,” said Charron. STEM refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Kill agreed, stating that companies like GlobalFoundries are now relying almost completely on computer-aided building information modeling (BIM), which means scanning an entire room with a highly sophisticated computer software program.
When the scan is complete, every single component of the room is on the drawing. This type of program allows plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians to lay out entire facilities.
Kill, who worked at GlobalFoundries while it was being built, said initially all the work was “hand done,” and now it is mainly done by scanning.
“It cuts down on clashes with the other trades that are also working on the buildings at the same time,” said Kill.
“Once it [BIM scanning} is done, they know everything about the room. And other big companies will start requiring this skill very soon,” said Kill, adding that some of their union members do nothing but BIM and CAD work.
“In places like GlobalFoundries, there is so much piping. This new technology is changing the face of this industry,” said Kill.
Charron sits on the South Glens Falls Central School District Board of Education. He agreed that STEM education has become vital. He stresses this when he visits BOCES and other vocational schools during the recruitment process. Currently, Local 773 has 25 first-year apprentices and about the same number in their fifth year.
The five-year program to become a journeyman is not easy. Apprentices work full-time during the day, gaining valuable firsthand, on-the-job training. When their workday ends, they spend an additional three hours, five evenings a week, at the training center in Queensbury, or in the satellite training center located on the U.S. Air Force base in Plattsburgh.
In the classroom and the labs, they learn how to do everything from welding and pipe-fitting, to troubleshooting systems and building boilers, hot water heaters and walk-in coolers. Apprentices are tested throughout the year and must pass final exams before they can complete the program.
“We have a 90 percent completion rate,” said Charron.
Union members can also take advantage of the union’s relationship with Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“After their apprenticeship here, our members can get 32 credits from Washtenaw and get an associates’ degree in estimating, management and other areas. There are also programs available through Michigan State to get a bachelor’s degree,” said Charron.
“All our instructors also spend a week each summer training at Ann Arbor,” added Charron.
Between the Plattsburgh facility and the Luzerne Road location, Local 773 has 19 instructors who are also union members.
One of the obvious benefits of getting into the trade is the ability to earn a living and receive benefits while training to become journeymen. There are currently two women enrolled in the apprenticeship program and Charron said they actively recruit women and minority groups.
They also have a robust and aggressive veteran direct entry program, called Helmets to Hard Hats.
“Forty percent of the apprentices in our program are veterans,” said Charron.
Charron and Kill said it is going to become a challenge to fill all the jobs being created now in the seven counties served by the union. They continue to recruit new members to the trade.
The average salary for a journeyman is approximately $70,000 a year, with opportunities to earn more as they expand their levels of skill and experience and reach positions as foremen and managers.