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Now is the Time to be an Operating Engineer

August 6, 2014
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—That’s what the training director of Local 94 of the International Union of Operating Engineers said when asked about what advice he should give to anyone considering maintaining and operating some of New York City’s tallest buildings.

Last week we interviewed Local 94’s President, Kuba Brown, to talk about how the city’s skyscrapers in the 1970s differ from the newer buildings rising up today and the types of skills operating engineers need to do their jobs.

On Tuesday afternoon, we interviewed on camera Local 94’s training director Howard Styles at the union’s training center on the West Side to find out the types of skills operating engineers are learning.

Styles has been the director of the center for over 10 years and said that each incoming new class in September averages about 1,000 students. When they start their training, the students learn the basics of building automation systems and control systems.

“Our courses that we teach are very varied; our members learn from simple things like fixing toilet fixtures to sophisticated equipment like building automation systems,” said Styles.

In fact, standing nearby was a piece of trainer equipment built by the Massachusetts-based company Hampden, a leading manufacturer of education equipment for industrial training programs, where Styles said mimics different control variations in a building.

“This mimics what’s popular in buildings [such as] variable air volume units, VAVs, as well as constainer systems,” Styles said.

A new crop of students will be entering the program for the new semester, which runs from September to February. According to Styles, the training program runs for three years.

“When they enter, this is designed to be a three-year program with additional years if they want to advance their careers.”

Some of the advanced classes allow students to pursue either certifications or new skills. 

“The building owners and management institute [BOMI International] have their own certifications such as SMTs [Systems Maintenance Technicians] and SMAs [Systems Maintenance Administrator]. We also offer a college program in conjunction with CUNY where they can gain 15 college credits towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree,” said Styles.

After 10 years of providing training to thousands of students, Styles said it’s often when former students come back to visit him and thank him for the comprehensive skills they’ve learned.

“This is what gives most of us teachers the passion to teach because when they come back and they let you know that what you’ve given them has been important in their life that’s what makes teaching all the while worth it.”

Styles noted when students graduate from the program, some of the very first tasks they’ll be doing is operating and maintaining large facilities, troubleshooting problems when the lights, energy or gas isn’t working. After they’ve mastered troubleshooting, Local 94 members will then have the chance to work towards becoming a chief engineer.

“There are individuals who have become chief engineers in less than four years; it depends on the individual and the opportunity that’s available,” Styles said.

The necessary and critical skills Local 94 members learn to keep New York City’s skyline standing tall is the reason why they can earn a decent living.

“They have are a very good salary. They are very comfortable and most of our members own homes and are doing well for themselves,” said Styles.

When asked if he had any advice to anyone considering becoming an operating engineer, Styles said they should enter the field right now.

“Enter. Enter now, this is the field to be in. It’s safe, even with the catastrophes that we have faced [including] 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy we have kept nearly 100 percent of our members.”





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