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New ABC Chapter Training Facilities Cater to All Levels of Professional Development

Buildings are pretty great teaching tools in their own right. Many contractors specializing in institutional projects take the time to include students in the construction process—whether giving tours to elementary-age kids or showcasing building methods to AEC undergrads.

The Keystone Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) realized the value of this when planning the renovation and expansion of its 11,000-square-foot headquarters in Manheim, Pa. Not only could the facility house the chapter’s offices, career development courses and apprenticeship training, but it also could serve as an educational resource by showcasing as many different materials and construction techniques as possible.
ABC Keystone
The exterior of the 20,000-square-foot addition incorporates six different materials, while the interior exposes a lot of building components that tend to be covered up, such as steel, bracing and ductwork. Additionally, a confined space is built into the floor and the roof is OSHA compliant for fall protection.

“We wanted people who come in and have no background in construction to see the inner workings of a building,” says Dave Sload, director of education for ABC Keystone. “We have 36 different types of light fixtures, and one section of the building has mechanical components painted different colors to highlight what’s what. It showcases what our members do and serves as good visual training.”

Eight thousand square feet of the Keystone Center for Construction Careers, which opened in April, is geared toward hands-on training. There also are three new classrooms, offices, a computer lab and a multimedia room. “Our goal is to be the place for industry training, not just for apprenticeship,” Sload says.

That goal has been front and center at ABC Keystone for quite some time. The chapter has been conducting training since 1978; as early as 2006, it became evident skilled manpower would be a top workforce issue going forward. But when the economy tanked, the chapter’s board of directors had to put plans for a better education facility on the back burner. They resurrected the plan in 2012 and broke ground in June 2014. 

The timing couldn’t be better. Apprenticeship enrollments have increased 15 percent during the past year, and career development participation has nearly doubled—with more than 10,000 training hours logged by 1,200 students. Additionally, five-year apprentice enrollments are projected to reach 405 by the 2017-2018 school year, as compared to 305 in 2015-2016 and 220 in 2013-2014.

“Not a day goes by where we have an unsponsored or laid off apprentice looking for a job,” Sload says. “And while we’re not in the heart of Pennsylvania’s gas industry, we need to help train member companies that may chase that work or those that may lose employees to that industry and have to backfill their workforce.”

ABC Keystone currently offers plumbing, electrical, sheet metal, carpentry and HVAC programs. With the completion of the new building, it will be offering welding certifications in early 2016 and pipefitting further down the road. The chapter also is looking to do more trade-specific task training as requested by individual companies; plus management education, safety courses and blueprint reading. “We’re responding more to our members’ needs in South Central Pennsylvania,” Sload says.

In turn, by funding and building the Keystone Center for Construction Careers, ABC member companies responded to the industry’s need to fill the skilled trades gap. The chapter had to raise $2.7 million of the project’s $5.2 million price tag (with the remainder covered by reserves and a loan). During the bidding process, ABC members and suppliers donated $1.4 million through discounts, and another $1,010,000 was raised through cash, pledges and grants, including $100,000 from
the Trimmer Construction Education Foundation. The final $285,000 is expected to be accounted for by the end of the year.

“When you have an association with suppliers that don’t do training, they might question why to support an effort like this,” Sload says. “But in true Keystone fashion, people stepped up. I’m so happy with the foresight and passion our members had to see the industry improve its training capabilities.”

In terms of actual project construction, more than 50 ABC member companies were involved. The chapter broke the building
into sections so as many companies could participate as possible, including four HVAC firms and three electricians. Benchmark Construction Co., Brownstown, Pa., was the construction manager and Kinsley Construction, York, Pa., was the general contractor. The design team included York-based SAArchitects and Paragon Engineering Services, as well as Lancaster-based Providence Engineering Corp. and R.G.S. Associates.

“It was fun to interact with the field workers onsite who might not have known a lot about ABC before this project,” Sload says, noting the apprentices are happy to be out of the basement and into classrooms with natural light.

“We have been at this same location since 1978, but with the way the addition was put on and how much closer it positioned us to the interstate bypass, we get new recognition from the east and west. I just had a meeting with 27 teachers and guidance counselors to introduce them to careers in our industry, and I’m getting calls from major vendors asking how they can participate in our program.

“The exciting thing is we’re ripe to turn the ship where construction careers are again going to become a viable opportunity for students,” he adds. “We just need to get the message out there that this is a place to come build your career.”

Across the state in Gibsonia, Pa., the ABC Western Pennsylvania Chapter recently replaced its traditional office building—which had low ceilings and offered no parking or large exterior doors—with a 6,000-square-foot facility that’s more conducive to training and is in a more convenient location.
ABC Western Pennsylvania
Member involvement was key to success on the $750,000 job: 75 percent of project materials and time was donated, with the remainder covered by a mortgage and cash on hand.

The one-floor building features 2,500 square feet for four offices, restrooms, a reception area, a storage room and a conference room with a catering facility. The 3,500-square-foot portion of the building devoted to training includes two classrooms that can hold about 15 students each and a big open space with a 14-foot ceiling and a garage door.

The building is bustling with electrical apprentices every evening, and hosts safety and leadership courses throughout the year. A revived carpentry program will be up and running this fall.

“Our apprentices feel more at home here,” says Katy Rittle, director of education and workforce development for the ABC Western Pennsylvania Chapter. “The big open space can seat up to 50 people for safety or other types of construction-related training. And with the garage door, we can offer programs that require larger equipment to be brought in.”

This renewed commitment to providing quality training facilities is taking shape across the country. Read on for more examples of ABC chapters that have invested in new buildings within the past year to support all levels of professional development.

In Texas, two ABC chapters are working to expand training options for both commercial and industrial contractors.

With roughly $22 billion of new work coming to the area, the industrial-focused ABC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter knew it needed to step up the resources it offers trainees. Together with Merit Shop Training Inc. (MSTI) and the Brazosport Safety Council, the chapter came up with a plan to keep one existing warehouse on its 18-acre property and build a 48,000-square-foot building on the back half of the undeveloped land. The groups, which are all housed under one roof in Freeport, Texas, worked in their existing space while the new tilt-wall facility was constructed.
ABC Texas Gulf Coast
The project broke ground in April 2014 and wrapped up this spring. Harvey Builders, Sorrell Construction, Terracon Consultants and Kirksey Architecture led the design and construction effort. It was financed by a bank loan, chapter funds and one large industry donation.

“We’re a one-stop-shop now,” says Terry McAlister, president and CEO of the ABC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter. “You can get screening and badging in one place, and we have training rooms that owners and contractors can lease out.”

In addition to two drug screening offices and a badging office, the building features a 200-seat computer lab, five classrooms (one of which has an 80-seat tiered auditorium), administrative space with an adjoining boardroom for the three entities, a break room and deli, and several small conference rooms. MSTI also has a computer lab and library for NCCER Knowledge Assessments.

“The huge number of projected workers was one of our main incentives for expanding,” says Becky Rinehart, MSTI’s director of education. “Just getting trainees through the safety council was a challenge in our previous facility. The old building had 70 seats; now we have 200.

“We also have increased capacity for hands-on craft training for certificates that we do in partnership with a local community college,” Rinehart says. “We’re looking to offer new classes, as well as possibly expand the use of our warehouse for other performance assessments in addition to the NCCER rigging practical exams that we already offer.”

About 60 miles north, the ABC Greater Houston Chapter is working to bolster the training capacity of its commercial contractor members. The chapter’s Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation built a training center on the east side of town seven years ago to supplement the industrial training done in collaboration with community colleges. Last year, when it came time to build a new ABC office, the board of directors decided to move from downtown to the west side and include commercially focused training space.
ABC Houston
The project entailed a complete gut and redesign of a former multi-tenant office building to hold administrative space, classrooms, a boardroom and a 1,500-square-foot lab for hands-on training. ABC members raised about $200,000 for the $600,000 renovation; the rest was covered by a loan and chapter building fund. Houston-based Burton Construction and PDG Architects led the construction team, with a slew of other members donating labor and materials to help with the project.

The new facility, which opened in April, has allowed the chapter to substantially embellish its management, leadership and safety training. This fall, it is adding HVAC, plumbing and carpentry programs.

“We’re currently offering those classes at community colleges, but are trying to move some in-house with our own instructors and equipment so we have more oversight and can customize them to our members’ needs,” says Russell Hamley, president of the ABC Greater Houston Chapter. “We’re also allowing other entities—particularly OSHA—to rent the new space for training.”

Additionally, member companies can use the chapter’s conference rooms, and a large lounge space is available for students or members to drop in to do work or socialize before classes or committee meetings. “We want this to be a place where people can conduct ABC business or their own business,” Hamley says.

As far back as 2011, the ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter started to take a serious look at expanding its 6-acre St. Rose, La., campus due to signs of a major shortage of skilled workers (10,000 to 12,000) to handle the quantity of large Gulf Coast construction projects on the horizon.
ABC New Orleans
“After multiple semesters of turning away individuals for training in all crafts, it became obvious that something had to be done,” says Claire Nettles, vice president of workforce development for the ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter. “Through our tripartite agreement with our Education Trust Fund and Campus, LLC, executive staff came up with a rough idea of what needed to be added to our facility to increase capacity.”

The project included two new buildings: a 7,200-square-foot welding facility with 60 new, state-of-the-art booths (for a total of 125), and an additional 10,500 square feet of space for seven classrooms/labs. The project, completed in March, was funded through a loan, a grant from the Trimmer Construction Education Foundation and private solicitations.

The chapter now has the capacity to double its enrollment (previously topped out at 300 students) in electrical, instrumentation, pipefitting, plumbing and welding programs, as well as increase the crafts it offers.

“We have a very active member base that is passionate about developing a skilled workforce,” Nettles says. “Both our apprenticeship and craft trainee student bodies are excited about the growth of the campus.”

In 2014, the Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA), affiliated with ABC’s Greater Michigan Chapter, developed an aggressive skilled trades program designed to complement educational and career readiness initiatives for students in and around the Midland County school district. The program is geared toward the HVAC, carpentry, electrical and welding fields, with local contractors and other industry leaders, including Dow Chemical, collaborating on job placement for participants.
ABC Michigan
Typically, the core and level one craft-specific training program takes two years to complete. Upon completion, students earn nationally recognized certifications.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, GMCA and the Midland County Educational Service Agency collaborated to deliver the HVAC and electrical tracks, but a sufficiently equipped lab was needed to provide nationally recognized welding training to the more than 100 high school students interested in the program. GMCA applied for and received a $317,000 grant from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to cover the cost of constructing 12 welding booths within its Midland Training Center.

Valley Electrical Contractors, Great Lakes Bay Construction, J.E. Johnson, and Answer Heating and Cooling partnered to help build the lab, with additional support from Three Rivers Corporation and Alloy Construction. Work started in July, and it was fully up and running by September. The space features top-of-the-line equipment, adequate room for instruction and all necessary tools.

With the new lab built, GMCA is looking to offer daytime welding classes, as well as add the welding curriculum to its evening classes. It will be able to accommodate 12 new apprentices per class and is looking to offer three to four classes per week.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 5 percent increase in welding jobs from 2006 to 2016. In Michigan, welders start at $13 per hour and can earn as much as $26 per hour, according to mitalent.org.

“Creating a top-notch welding lab has been on our list of needs since we moved into our new training facility three years ago,” says Stephanie Davis, GMCA’s director of education and training. “We are excited to be able to offer this type of training—not only as a standalone welding curriculum, but also as hands-on training for a variety of trades that need welding skills to excel.” 

Support the Trimmer Education Foundation

The Trimmer Construction Education Foundation (TCEF) is a nonprofit charitable organization affiliated with Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) that funds efforts to train the construction industry workforce and bring talented young men and women into the pipeline.

Recently, TCEF provided grants to the ABC Central Ohio, Keystone, New Orleans/Bayou and Heart of America chapters to expand the capacity of their training programs.

TCEF also awarded 10 “Build Your Future” scholarships worth $2,000 each to aspiring craft professionals pursuing training through an NCCER-accredited program or state or federally approved apprenticeship program in a merit shop training facility. (Visit workforceunderconstruction.com for the list of winners.) Additionally, the foundation supports programs that highlight construction as a career through the ACE Mentor Program and ABC’s National Craft Championships and Construction Management Competition.

All of these efforts are geared toward solving the severe skilled worker shortage facing the construction industry.

To show its commitment to expanding merit shop training programs and promoting construction careers, the ABC National Board of Directors approved a policy to include an option in members’ dues invoices allowing for a $100 contribution to TCEF.

Non-ABC members that want to help solve the industry’s skills shortage can make tax-deductible donations to TCEF at trimmerfoundation.org.

For those attending ABC’s Leadership Week at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, sign up for the Casino Night Fundraiser and Reception Nov. 10 benefitting TCEF. For more information, contact Kirsten Krauer at (202) 595-1864 or krauer@abc.org.

Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org, visit constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.

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