The construction industry relies on continuing education.
Many of the trades associated with construction, such as carpentry and masonry, aren’t certified positions. Others, however, like plumbing and electrical positions, require certifications for those positions.
A clearinghouse for these types of classes is Associated Builders and Contractors, Western Michigan Chapter, which offers a variety of classes taught by federally certified Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) instructors.
Norm Brady, president of ABC’s West Michigan Chapter, said there is only one trade where a four-year apprenticeship is required, which is the electrical trade.
“In order to secure and maintain your electrical license, you have to participate in that four-year apprenticeship program,” he said. “All other disciplines, there is no license, you don’t need a license to be a carpenter, you don't need a license to be a bricklayer, but you do need a license to be a master electrician.”
Brady said ABC works with Grand Rapids Community College, where more than 300 future electricians are enrolled in its apprenticeship program at the M-Tec Center. Upon completion of the coursework, students will receive a license from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Plumbers, Brady said, are required to take a five-hour code update class every three years, which has to be documented. Those classes also are provided by ABC.
Brady said more than 400 construction-related firms send employees to participate in other nonrequired classes.
The training sessions cover a variety of construction matters over the course of four days, one class per month in either the fall or spring.
“We also have training programs in carpentry, masonry, concrete, sheet metal and other disciplines,” Brady said. “In addition to (that specialty) training, we also help our members by providing a lot of safety training,” he said.
“Safety is such a big part of the construction industry. So some of the training (sessions) we do are about fall protection, confined spaces, scaffold directions, electrocution, ‘struck-by,’ ‘caught-betweens,’ among other things.”
Although those classes aren’t required, Brady said once the four training sessions are completed, participants receive a 30-hour OSHA certification. The class sizes vary, but contractors of all ages attend the sessions to update themselves on new laws and codes in construction, according to Brady.
Chris Smith, director of safety at Grand Rapids-based Pioneer Construction, said the company supports ABC’s efforts in West Michigan.
“We partner with them for not only the safety committees they have but also for the additional resource services they have,” Smith said.
Smith said at times, Pioneer will send about 10 of its employees to participate in ABC’s safety training, commonly referred to as Safety Academy.
The safety training is mostly book-based, according to Brady, but participants also take part in hands-on activities, especially when covering steel erection.
Brady said it is hard to measure the success of ABC’s training because companies tend to measure their individual success by comparing injury rates to the national average.
“I don’t know if there is any specific measure available that would show the value of any one class, but the companies that have a culture of providing safety training have better records than those that don’t,” Brady said.