September 24, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – Teaching the next generation of heavy equipment operators how to safely and effectively operate the multi-ton behemoths currently reshaping the city on construction sites throughout town is an awesome responsibility — but IUOE Local 15’s Patrick Peterson couldn’t be more well-suited for the job.
Over the course of his 30-year union career, the Rockland County product has worked on some of the most vitally important construction projects in New York City — from the 2nd Avenue Subway line to the Croton Water Filtration Plant.
And during that time, he has never stopped educating himself — either as a journeyman turned site foreman for 13 years or most recently, as head of IUOE Local 15’s Lefferts Boulevard training facility near JFK Airport for the last three-and-a-half years.
“I think we’re changing with the times,” says Peterson, 50. “Every aspect of this business is dangerous — that’s why training is key.”
Climbing into the cab of a 49-ton, 474-horsepower bulldozer or similar earthmover for the first time can, indeed, be daunting. That’s why Peterson derives so much satisfaction as head of Local 15’s thoroughly intensive, ever-evolving four-year training program.
“It’s watching somebody come in the first day and not having that confidence, and by the time they graduate, seeing that they have the confidence, and that they can go out there and support themselves,” the father of three says.
For Peterson, instilling a true sense of union pride in Local 15’s apprentices is just as important as making sure they develop expertise behind the controls of a front loader or backhoe.
“The benefits that you receive are not only monetary and being able to take care of your family,” Peterson says. “There are also the benefits you have from being a union brother or sister, and seeing the work that you accomplished being there for generations down the line to see.”
Local 15’s current crop of 21 apprentices includes students who have come to the training school though special programs including Helmets to Hardhats, Non-Traditional Employment for Women and the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills.
In addition to that instruction, Local 15’s Training School continuously retrains and re-certifies its 5,000 members throughout the year. Instructors, including Peterson, also routinely take part in “train the trainer” sessions around the country. In an industry where Bluetooth automated cranes now exist, it's important to stay well ahead of the curve.
“The whole industry is, indeed, changing, and new equipment is constantly coming out,” Peterson says. “We’re also doing a lot of work with other trades — carpenters, timbermen, laborers and others.”
After traveling extensively, Peterson’s big hope is that more students become aware of the career opportunities that apprenticeship programs promise.
“So many young people think that college is the only avenue,” Peterson says. “But this country was formed on apprentice programs. Trade schools aren’t being looked at the way they used to be — but we need them.”