North Central / Regional Reports

United Association Provides Careers for Native Americans

September 22, 2008
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CHICAGO - The construction industry is currently experiencing a skilled worker shortage, especially in the field of welding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 450,000 welders will be needed nationwide by 2014. The United Association (UA), working with the Department of the Interior/Indian Affairs, is striving to find an answer to this shortage by reaching out to the Native American workforce.

As a result of these efforts, 19 Native Americans have enrolled as apprentices in the UA Hybrid Welding Program. They will receive their training at UA Local 597 Pipe Fitters’ Training Center in Mokena, Ill. Through this initiative, these Native American apprentices will obtain much-needed careers. Local 597 is the Chicagoland regional chapter of the UA.

“We are pleased to be working with the Department of the Interior on this exciting project,” said UA President William Hite. “This is what the United Association is all about.”

The UA Hybrid Welding Program is provided at no cost to these apprentices. During the 16-week fast-track program, students attend class for eight hours per day, 40 hours per week.

The 19 Native American apprentices - 18 men and one woman - were selected from eight states nationwide. They come from a variety of tribes, including the Blackfeet, Winnebago, Leech Lake, Spokane, and Menominee tribes.

‘WANTED TO GET IT STARTED RIGHT AWAY'

The project began when Department of the Interior/Indian Affairs officials approached the United Association with the idea of training Native Americans for new careers.

Hite approved the concept on the spot. “I thought it was a great idea and I wanted to get it started right away,” he said.

James Buchanan, business manager of Local 597, also liked the idea. “When I heard about this program with the Department of the Interior, I said, ‘Bring them here. I want them in our program,’” Buchanan stated. “We need skilled workers. Welding is our lifeblood. It’s the most skilled craft to have today. Everything flows through pipe.”

A WAY OF LIFE

At a recent press conference welcoming the 19 Native Americans to Local 597, Mike Arndt, UA training director, told the new apprentices, “The 350,000 members of the UA welcome you as members. You have the opportunity to become brothers and sisters with those 350,000 and part of an organization that will protect your rights as workers. You’ll be introduced to our Standard of Excellence, which all UA pipe fitters must meet. The UA is more than a job - it’s a way of life.”

New apprentice Scott Arnoux, age 22, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, was eager to join the program. “I was working for a roofer, and I wanted to learn a valuable trade so I can move ahead in life,” he said. “I just got turned down for a job because I’m not a certified welder, and then this opportunity came up. This is a valuable trade to have.”

Another apprentice, Cora Quaderer, age 20, a member of the Leech Lake Tribe in Minnesota, said, “There are few jobs in my area and I was unemployed. I want to learn everything they do so I can get a good job. I know this will change my life a lot. And I’m proud to be the only woman entering this program.”

Once the new apprentices complete their training, they will be relocated to communities in need of their welding skills.

According to Arndt, Local 597 isn’t the only UA local working with the Department of the Interior. “Local Union 469 in Phoenix, Arizona, will also be starting the program in the near future,” he said.

Across North America, the UA is working to recruit and train quality workers. According to Hite, the UA has made an annual commitment of more than $140 million to training, with a goal of 50,000 apprentices in training this year, creating an infrastructure of mobile training facilities, online studies, accelerated training, and other educational options.

Publication date: 09/22/2008

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