February 17, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
There is one word to describe the apprenticeship training that takes place at Ironworkers Local 417 – serious. A small, tight knit team of people, all of whom wear many hats in the course of a day, hunker down together to produce the well disciplined, well rounded ironworkers that proudly emerge from their program.
The four year apprenticeship that results in JIW (Journeyman Iron Worker) status is no cake walk. The 44 apprentices currently enrolled in the program attend class twice a week from 5 to 8 PM after working in the field each day.
Absences from either work or school are not taken lightly, and more that three unexcused absences are grounds for automatic dismissal. Class attendance can be a task in itself, considering the localʼs jurisdiction spreads across six counties in New Yorkʼs Hudson Valley: Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, Putnam and Dutchess, and apprentices are required to travel from wherever their job site may be to the training center in Newburgh. But, the bar has been set high and no one at Local 417 has any intention of lowering it.
Each year, new classes are formed in September, but only after a grueling selection process. Some 200 applicants vie for approximately 16 slots. There are written exams, physical exams, interviews and drug tests to face before admission. It is a system that ignores “who you know” and focuses on the potential of each candidate. The best indicator of the standard of excellence that has been set, is the fact that despite the painstaking process of selecting new recruits, there are always a few people who fail out of the program. Not everyone makes it.
During the dog days of summer, before actual classes begin, there is a period of basic training provided. OSHA classes, tool recognition, basic terminology, and an introduction to hands-on instruction all serve as a frank indoctrination into the world of building trades construction. Contractors are pleasantly surprised to see new apprentices hit the ground running.
Over the next four years, hand picked core instructors offer a curriculum of OSHA, MSHA, Math, Rigging, Cranes & Signaling, Welding and Precast classes. Training is rounded out by specialty instructors, all experts in their own rite, who present every aspect of Reinforcing, Structural and Ornamental Ironwork.
Reliability, teamwork and a willingness to embrace responsibility are not just talked about. They are all part of a culture that is embraced and modeled at every level in the local. Business Manager, Financial Secretary/Treasurer, Mike Gaydos can normally be found well after normal business hours, after completing his managerial and fiduciary duties, sitting and talking to President and Apprentice Coordinator, Matt Stoddard about how best to arrange classes or what expansions the building might need in order to provide better training opportunities.
Matt, in turn, can be seen 4 nights a week engaging in good old fashioned ʻmanagement by walking around,ʼ interacting with students and instructors. He, of course relies heavily upon the dedication, expertise and assistance of Vice President and Welding Instructor, Michael Dunn, known to his friends as “Doc,” who gives tirelessly of his time when he is not running work for local contractors. They all happily accept the administrative and clerical support of Laurie Vanleuvan and Lorraine Warren.
Despite the serious nature of the tasks at hand, long hours and hard work that is evident, the atmosphere is a pleasant one. A little good natured joking and a lot of smiles show that students, faculty and administration are all proud of what they are accomplishing and the organization they represent.
This concentration on education and training does not exist in a vacuum. It is an intricate part of an overall strategy of aggressively seeking to increase market share in the regionʼs growing economy. Regardless of the nature of the project, be it a precast building on a campus in Dutchess, a reinforced foundation at a ski resort in Ulster, or a structural mid rise at a casino in Sullivan, Local 417 is determined to be part of the process. Mr. Stoddard summed up the attitude of all involved when he said: “Local 417 will adapt to the environment no matter how often it changes, and we know that education and training is key to remaining competitive.”