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
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
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.