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Steamfitters' Apprenticeship Program Welds Future Careers

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The Steamfitters union has a rigorous training program to make sure all those vying to build and maintain pipes, ventilation, heating and cooling systems in buildings across the city are really up to the task. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.

At the Steamfitters Union Local 638 training center in Long Island City, Queens on Wednesday, instructor Dan Knight demonstrated how to properly operate a welding torch.

"These men and women that are in this program know that it's highly competitive and they are here to get the most learning and skill they can," said Steamfitters Union Local 638 President Pat Dolan.

The five-year program requires aspiring steamfitters to spend one day every other week here and the rest of the time in the field working for a variety of mechanical contracting firms.

"Air conditioning, heating, sprinkler work, hydraulic work, all of the piping work basically on new construction, renovation, powerhouse work, school work and hospitals," Dolan explained.

The apprentices spend time in classrooms and workshops, and they get to use a virtual welding simulator too, giving them the feel of welding before they do the real thing with the help of instructors like James Coffey.

They get their training through an education fund under a collective bargaining agreement with the companies that use them, represented by The Mechanical Contractors Association of New York.

"It's a jointly-managed fund of trustees on the management side and the union side, so we make the decisions on what gets taught, what the funding is, and what the need might be," Mechanical Contractors Association of New York Executive Vice President Tony Saporito.

A number of the apprentices are part of the Helmets to Hardhats program, where recently discharged military veterans are given the opportunity to have a career as a steamfitter.

"It's a beautiful transition, anyone who knows me will tell you I'm at the job one hour early," said Ricardo Francis, a Steamfitter apprentice.

"The instructors here are amazing. They really help us out a lot," said James Carrasquillo, another Steamfitter apprentice.

When the apprentices graduate they will be known as journeymen or women, building and maintaining what one might call the heart, lungs and arteries of buildings across the five boroughs.

"A safe building means you have a healthier workforce. So the quality of work that is instilled in our members is so important for the developer and the community," said Business Agent At Large Richard Roberts.

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