In recent years, the push toward college degrees and university learning has left most of the trades with only a small pool of workers from which to choose. The measure of success has become graduating from college. But what about those individuals who do not desire the typical college degree and the path it leads to?

Some trade unions have begun forming partnerships with colleges in order to fill this niche. Because of a new partnership, some apprentices are now getting the opportunity to enter a trade-related field while earning a degree from their training. By taking the mandatory courses through a trade union and then taking a few more optional courses through the local college, these students can earn an associate’s degree.

The Mechanical Contractors Assoc-iation (MCA) and United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) Local 597 in Chicago, IL, is set to start an associates degree program in pipefitting. Set to start in January, interest has been overwhelming among Local 597’s apprentices. According to Jerry Miller, union apprentice coordinator, more than half of the 650 apprentices have expressed interest in participating in the program.

Pipefitting Degree

Union Local 597 is one of the largest in the country with approximately 6,000 active members. The associate’s degree program is an attempt to create even more interest in this trade union and in the trades altogether.

According to Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of the MCA, recruiting and sustaining interest in apprenticeship pipefitting has been the main goal.

Lamb explains that the associate’s degree is important to raising interest in the apprenticeship program, because “Everybody’s parents want them to go to college.” The Associate’s Degree of Applied Science in Apprenticeship Pipe Fitting offers the opportunity to pursue a career in the trades and still earn a degree.

Lamb also says that this degree opens a door to several other trade-related fields and aspects of mechanical contracting. It also shows that pipefitting is a technological and mechanically demanding career. “The generation of people we are going after today are the generation raised on the Internet,” Lamb points out.

The MCA/Local 597 program sometimes has a waiting list. By offering the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree, program officials are hoping that individuals will be willing to wait to enter the program.

The MCA/Local 597 program joined forces with Ivy Tech State College Northwest in Indiana. The last half of 1999 was spent developing the program and obtaining a state grant that would pay for instructors. Now, with the associate’s degree courses set to start in January, the opportunity is simple to take advantage of.


The associate’s degree program is open to anyone currently enrolled as an apprentice in Local 597. During the five years of apprenticeship, union members only have to take two extra courses: Technical Writing and Human Relations. Local 597 members can take these courses for free.

Even more of a benefit, the apprentices are already getting paid while they learn. With this in mind, the associate’s degree works out to be the equivalent of a $5,000 scholarship.

Many students attending traditional college programs wind up owing a great deal of money after graduation. Through this program, apprentices will finish their five-year study ahead of most. Apprentices are making money while they learn and will not owe any money after they complete the courses.

Additional Benefits

Lamb says that this alliance between unions and colleges is not difficult to set up. In fact, Ivy Tech has started a technology degree with eight other area unions. This includes the building and construction trades, ironworkers, and electricians.

Miller also points out that this is not difficult for the apprentices. Combined, the courses equal 48 hrs of class time. Also, the associate’s degree program could possibly develop into something more in the future. Miller says that it may be possible for members who obtain the associate’s degree to be able to eventually transfer the credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

The associate’s degree also has far-reaching possibilities when an apprentice has completed his or her training.

“You never used to hear of a tradesman who has a résumé,” Lamb said. “If I were a contractor, this would show initiative on the part of an employee.”

Sidebar: York Brand Broadens Distribution Strategy

NORMAN, OK — York Unitary Products Group (UPG) will expand York® brand distribution in Hawaii in a move to serve customers better, according to Andy Rowland, regional vice president for UPG.

Effective Jan. 1, 2001, York UPG plans to increase market penetration by distributing the York line exclusively through Familian Northwest, which already has seven distributor locations on the four major Hawaiian islands, including Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai and Maui.

Former distributor Air Reps Hawaii, a division of the mechanical contractor Heide & Cook, had one location in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Heide & Cook will remain a York customer but will no longer serve as a York UPG distributor.

“We have enjoyed the years of our business relationship with York, but this change in distribution is a mutual agreement,” said Ken Richardson, chief executive officer of Heide & Cook. “The new distribution strategy should expand the market for York in Hawaii.”

Darrin Tanaka, formerly employed by Air Reps Hawaii, has been hired as the new hvac sales manager for Familian Northwest in Hawaii. Kyle Arakaki and Vicky Malacas, also part of the former Air Reps team, join Tanaka.

Based in Portland, OR, Familian NW is the largest distributor in the Northwest, serving hvac markets including residential, industrial, commercial, manufacturing, heating, and waterworks. With 116 branches, the distributorship covers 16 states, as well as international operations in the South Pacific.

Publication date: 12/11/2000