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Ironworkers Tout Successful Job Training Program

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 By Dan HeymanContact
January 5, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Wheeling open house today is showing off a training program organizers say is putting all its graduates in good jobs, while costing taxpayers little and the students themselves nothing. The collaboration between Ironworkers and contractors uses high-tech classrooms and on-the-job training. It puts apprentices in jobs such as building natural gas compressor stations.

Keith Hughes, business manager with Ironworkers Local 549, says after 3.5 years of earning while they learn, the new journeymen will get jobs making $50,000 to $70,000 a year, with good benefits.

"There is a 100 percent placement opportunity here. Not only in the Marcellus Shale, but we also build a lot of schools in this valley, the power plants, the steel mills."

The students earn welding certification or update their certificates to stay qualified. Hughes says they come out highly skilled, drug free and knowing how to stay safe on the job site. He says the employers like what they're getting.

"They are very happy with the way things have gone. They get a skilled worker who is ready to perform within an hour of when they hit the job site. That's what they really like about it."

The high-tech training facility includes a system to learn welding that is similar to a video game, Hughes says, and it uses almost no fuel or material.

"We have a virtual welder. This allows our apprentices and journeymen to come in and use this welding machine in a environmentally friendly atmosphere, to learn how to weld."

Graduates help pay for the new students coming in, he adds.

"If you come through that apprenticeship program, when you go out to work then you put a little bit of money back in there, to train more apprentices, to help pay retirement and medical. This is a self-sustaining program that helps our guys become qualified."

Most of the cost is evenly split between union dues and money paid by management.

The open house will be held Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. at the Ironworkers Local 549 training facility, 2350 Main St., Wheeling.

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