ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The 2018 Annual United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada (UA) Instructor Training Program (ITP) marked its 65th year this August, as 1,980 instructors participated in classes — 461 of them being first timers — on the Washtenaw Community College (WCC) campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. WCC has been the UA partner in this endeavor for 29 years, and the instructor training program has seen increased participation both in ITP certificates as well as associate’s degrees awarded. To earn an ITP certificate, trades instructors must complete 100 hours of professional training, 100 hours of technical training, and 15 college credits in a five-year time span. Some instructors further this certificate into an associate’s degree by taking more than the 15 college credits required. This year, WCC awarded 41 associate’s degrees as compared to 17 last year.

"The men and women you train are making the quality of life better for the folks they may never meet,” said Mark McManus UA general president, as he delivered his commencement speech. “Comfort heating and cooling, plumbing systems, sprinkler systems, are all being installed at the highest level by our members, and our nations are better for it. The Instructor Training Program is and has been the crown jewel of the United Association for 65 years."


Running alongside the ITP was the UA’s annual apprentice contest. Taking on a different layout this year, new chairman, Pat Faley, said that his favorite part of the competition was watching the young apprentices meet each other and gel throughout the competition. Faley was the chairman for the District 4 contest for 12 years and also ran the Illinois state contest for 12 years.

“They let me stay retired for about six months,” he laughed, “and then they called and said it was time for me to get back to work.”

The apprentice contest takes finalists from across the nation that have advanced in the ranks through local, state, and district competitions. Thirty-two competitors across multiple trades — HVAC, welding, pipefitting, sprinkler-fitting, and plumbing — take on challenges and tasks to test their skills and knowledge, both in written form and hands-on tasks.

This year’s HVAC winner, Ryan D. England, District 4, Local 137, is from Springfield, Illinois, and he is a recent graduate from the UA Apprenticeship program. AIRmasters — a heating, cooling, refrigeration, and sheet metal contractor and a Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) member — has employed England for the past six years.

"The apprenticeship competition finalists are some very impressive young professionals,” said Michael Brandt, president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) as he addressed the apprentices and instructors during the graduation. “The positive attitude and tremendous skills they have says a lot about all of the UA instructors and members that are gathered in this auditorium today and who can be found throughout the United Association."


Although the ITP graduation and the apprentice competition were the highlights of the week, there was a lot going on across the WCC campus. On-site, the UA had assembled its training trucks for each of the respective trades. These semi-trailers are designed and outfitted to be mobile trainers that can be used for teaching at locations across the U.S. The trailers have generators, platforms, sound systems, and a bevy of hands-on, real-life opportunities for those using the trucks to learn about their trade. On the HVAC truck, for example, there are functioning indoor split systems in the middle of the truck. Walking further through the truck and then through a doorway, the outdoor units are placed in their own environment and can simulate different training scenarios based on varying outdoor ambient temperature.

Also on campus was scholarship recipient Jean Claude Twagirimana. He is a plumbing instructor from Rwanda, Africa, and is here learning about new technologies and practices. Twagirimana plans to take what he has learned back to the trade school in his hometown and teach it to his students there.

“I have seen many things different from my country,” he said. “I am going to try to take new technologies that I have seen here to my home country, especially to my class. The UA has good technologies and methodologies of teaching and that is very interesting to me. I am thankful for this opportunity. Instructors need to keep up with new technology, and I really like the new system Blackboard. I would like to get Blackboard usage started in our training courses in Rwanda.”

Provided by the UA International Training Fund, Blackboard Master Classes are designed to help integrate technology into instructors’ classrooms. Blackboard itself is a multi-discipline education software platform that promotes access to education regardless of geographical location, financial situation, stage of life, or disability. Not only does this program provide instructors tools to educate and track apprentices, but it also provides an interactive learning experience to accommodate the needs of the apprentices.

“We have been working to really expand our educational offerings for online material,” said Chris Haslinger, UA director of education and training. “In the last couple of years, we've launched an online resource site for our instructors, which contains web books, PowerPoints, lesson plans, curriculum, quizzes, tests, and media sources, all so instructors have a turnkey educational suite, including an online course through our Blackboard system, to really be able to give them the tools to use this. We brought in guest speakers and partnered with technology companies to provide instruction to our instructors on how to utilize these devices, where are they being used, and how is it changing how mechanical industry business is being done.  Whether it’s the design aspect or the built aspect, we've really tried to reach out and incorporate technology into it.”

The UA International Training Fund also introduced two new virtual reality (VR) pieces to its training portfolio. The first is the UA 360° VR Video Training. This technology allows users to follow a journeyman HVACR technician through real-world repair scenarios and experience the first-person view of an apprentice. Videos can be viewed with or without a VR headset and can be explored on PC, tablet, smartphone, and Google Cardboard or similar VR headsets. The second new VR offering is the UA 360° Virtual Reality Career Experience app. This is an immersive experience that allows prospective apprentices to explore various career paths and training methods offered at hundreds of apprenticeship training facilities in North America. As a first-person user, participants can control where they go using gaze detection. This app can be used on Oculus Go, a stand-alone VR headset, and with select iPhone or Android smartphones paired with a compatible VR headset.

Publication date: 9/24/2018