Meet Fernando Sanchez: 2019 ABC Craft Instructor of the Year Finalist

Fernando Sanchez is a senior craft instructor and designated site safety professional for the Training Center in Aurora, Colorado, which means he’s filling the mentor role for a fresh crop of students every year.
By Joanna Masterson
April 24, 2019

It’s pretty special when a network of family members, teachers and colleagues can build on one another’s mentorship to guide a person into a successful career. That’s been the case for Fernando Sanchez, who joined the construction industry at his brother’s urging in 2007, advanced in the field for a few years for TIC – The Industrial Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kiewit Corporation, and then became a NCCER-certified pipefitting instructor in 2011.

Today, Sanchez is a senior craft instructor and designated site safety professional for the Training Center in Aurora, Colorado, which means he’s filling the mentor role for a fresh crop of students every year. He puts his own personal touch on teaching that resonates with students, and their feedback about his efforts to help them succeed propelled Sanchez to be a finalist for Associated Builders and Contractors’ Craft Instructor of the Year award.

“He cares about every one of his students and has faith in every one of them that they’ll make it, even when you don’t have faith in yourself. He knows you can do it,” says pipefitter Roxana Villegas.

“Students know how deeply Fernando cares for each of them and trusts that they will be successful,” adds Timothy C. Becker, director of craft and technical development for the Training Center. “I believe this comes from his faith and by knowing how the attainment of craft skills will greatly accelerate learners’ careers and enhance the financial stability of their families.”

Sanchez is deeply humbled by the praise: “I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to say those things about me. I let my work do the talking. The most important thing is seeing my students out there succeed.”

One of his standouts is Jeremy Fisher, who was a bit lost in the world before getting married, having a child and buying into Sanchez’s message of self-belief. In 2015, Fisher won a gold medal in pipefitting at the ABC National Craft Championships, which Sanchez has coached up-and-coming TIC journeymen like Fisher since 2011.

“He became a whole different person. To see him now, as an instructor for another company, is amazing,” Sanchez says.

Another struggling student said going to school was more frightening than going to jail. “When he told me his story, he had me in tears. He didn’t even finish sixth grade,” Sanchez says. “After three weeks of training, it was eye opening to see someone who didn’t believe in himself posting pictures on social media that he could do trigonometry. He gave me a big hug and said if I ever need anything, he’d have my back. He’s a friend forever now.”

In short, everyone needs a helping hand at some point in life. And once they believe in themselves, that hand can be let go.

“That’s when the magic happens—when they realize they can mentor someone else,” Sanchez says. “Next thing you know, you have a whole bunch of people teaching and caring. It’s an amazing chain. The journeymen-turned-superintendents I’ve trained now recommend new potential students for me to develop and train. It’s awesome to push them and show them they can do the same for someone else.”

Sanchez experienced this positive cycle firsthand. Early on in his career with TIC, he was happy to be on his tools as a laborer—to be a yes sir and yes ma’am kind of worker. Management wasn’t on his radar, but a strong work ethic stood out to his superintendent and led to opportunities for additional training.

“Once I got the training, everything fell into place,” he says. “Training has given me the opportunity to better my family and put me in the position I’m in: traveling across the country to deliver craft training and troubleshoot pipefitting problems.”

Sanchez also served as a subject matter expert for the 2015 NCCER core curriculum textbook and is an author for the NCCER pipefitting curriculum coming out in 2019. Beyond the bookwork, he preaches the importance of instructors getting to know the different ways their students learn so they can be part of the journey with them.

“The Training Center curriculum teaches you not just your on-the-job skills; it teaches you people skills and how to work with one another,” says pipefitter Donald Hill. “Being the leader Fernando is, you can absorb what he knows. It really inspires me.”

Adds Jon Michael White, another one of Sanchez’s pipefitter students: “I love the way he evaluates his students and provides more one-on-one time for the people who need it and a little more accelerated learning for the ones who don’t. He provides a step-by-step process that’s easy to learn. It’s not straight out of a book, which makes it feel a little more personal.”

If there’s one thing Sanchez wants to impart to young construction workers, it’s to chase their dreams. “A career in construction is just as honest as any other. This industry has a great future; you can do well for yourself and your family and have the opportunity to build America.”

Read about Craft Instructor of the Year finalist Joseph Fentross here.

by Joanna Masterson

Joanna Masterson was a writer and editor for Construction Executive for more than a decade.

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