SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Sheet Metal Local #41 in Puerto Rico began a training program. The local was established five years ago near San Juan, and after a year, organizers quickly realized training was needed.

During the next three years, the Joint Apprentice Training Center (JATC) worked with the International Training Institute (ITI) to build the curriculum and Puerto Rican leaders to pave the way to certification. Courses were established with local labor needs in mind, and in 2009, the new JATC was recognized and authorized with the Vocational Technical and High Skills School Number V20-05 license, which is needed in Puerto Rico to operate.

In September 2010, the Local #41 signed a contract with Ana G. Mendez University effective for the January 2011 semester. The partnership gives the university the academic role while the JATC focuses on the hands-on training.

For 2011, Local #41 earned $420,000 in contracts and partnerships to operate the program.

“It’s completely different from starting up the union any other place,” said Kevin Mulcahy, assistant director of organizing with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. “We’ve actually been very successful in getting partnerships and contracts.”

Courses are offered in air conditioning and refrigeration; testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB); welding; sheet metal; industrial refrigeration; industrial welding; water and air balancing; and building information modeling (BIM) software. Courses are a direct reflection of the industry in Puerto Rico today. Large office complexes and malls make TAB essential, and most of the members in Local #41 are individual contractors or own small companies dedicated to refrigeration and air conditioning, Mulcahy said.

“The focus on welding is because it’s known as a well-paid profession with a lot of work possibilities. Because there is a lack of welders in the United States, we think our center is prepared to provide qualified and complete training to cover part of this demand,” said Alfredo Marí, business manager and JATC coordinator in Puerto Rico. “Refrigeration in Puerto Rico is the main trade due to the tropical conditions that we face. Everything on the island has to be refrigerated or air conditioned all year-round.”

Membership at Local #41 totals 97, and because of contracts with partners like the university, they will train 55 new members this year.

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Publication date:05/23/2011