LAS VEGAS - Believe it or not, they gave the stage to Mark Breslin more than once.

Even though the CEO of Engineering and Utility Contractors Association was not necessarily kind in his remarks concerning unions, contractors, labor, and management, the organizers of the 2008 Partners in Progress Conference gave him the task of sitting in on the regional breakout sessions the afternoon of April 4 and had him report back to the general assembly the following morning as to what was discussed. Talk about brave.

The idea behind the afternoon breakout sessions was for attendees from the Northeast, Midwest, South/Southwest, and West to gather in their respective regions to air out their regional issues and problems, in addition to coming up with solutions. Breslin, along with help from a few staff members from SMACNA, listened in on the regional discussions in order to provide a recap. In all, more than 300 contractors and union leaders were involved in the discussion process.

In regard to recruitment, Breslin noted several innovations being implemented. Generally speaking, he said the groups thought more should be done with junior colleges, there should be more Web-based training center tours, and that more Generation X (those born 1965-81) apprentices are needed to recruit Generation Y apprentices.

In order to get more recruits, he said the sheet metal industry’s story has to change. Instead of portraying the industry as just working with one’s hands, it means getting an education and working on sophisticated equipment. He said the groups wanted more industry blitzes on joint labor-management job fairs; online applications 365 days a year, whereby contractors could forward applications to the JATC; and multilevel recruiting campaigns, one going strictly to parents, another aimed at students, and one to school counselors.

Other suggestions included increasing wages for apprentices $3 to $4 an hour, offering summer internships, pre-apprentice scholarships, member finder fees, and expanding retiree work addendums.

Another issue discussed involved labor shortage. Though it was very situational, in general all regions agreed there was a labor shortage, but not necessarily severe in nature. Most areas are concerned regarding the future, noting that the real problem is contractor utilization vs. union concern of unemployment.

In the area of labor-management initiatives, Breslin concluded from all regional discussions that there is a need for more local SMACNA-union strategic planning meetings. Also encouraged were mandatory supervision in apprenticeship programs, pushing for enactment of new International Training Institute (ITI) curriculum, and direct end-user marketing campaigns and representatives. This includes hosting “industry nights” in local areas to make people aware of the sheet metal industry.

Touching upon leadership, Breslin noted there is a call for training in it, including business and supervision training, as well as young contractor training. Some called for superintendent training to come from ITI, as well as foremen training. With 1,700 SMACNA contractors, Breslin encouraged all to get engaged in joint legislative action, as well as assisting in addressing new technology, such as Web development, which also meant getting familiar with MySpace, U-Tube, and Facebook.

Bottom line: Instead of just listening to all problems, issues, and suggestions, Breslin encouraged attendees to take home at least one suggestion and put it to work.

Publication date:05/05/2008