Training the Trades
A carpenter guides union technology training
“With what I’ve learned throughout my career, giving back is my main goal. I want to be able to share my knowledge and make sure our members know how to work with all the construction technology out there. To make sure that our industry is on par with the future.” Carpenter Craig Triplett is committed, to say the least. As assistant director at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Program, Triplett channels the love of his craft and experience—over three decades in the field—to advocate and elevate the educational opportunities for fellow carpenters and trade workers. “I’ve been an assistant director here a little over six years, and I started bringing tech into our center about five years ago, knowing what’s coming into the industry. We have to get ahead of it so that we can teach them, instead of them teaching us,” he explains.
The program has followed his lead, as all the instructors use laptops and iPad Pros, while the students use iPads. Each classroom uses an Apple TV to project onto the whiteboard, and the majority of curriculum tests are done on iPads. With over 220 of them now in the school, the students utilize them in the classroom and in the shops. Software and digital solutions are at the center of Triplett’s curriculum goals, as he understands the industry’s advancement in that realm. “We’ve had Bluebeam for about four years and the instructors have embraced its usefulness in their lessons. When I started here 13 years ago, we had desktops that had the three and a half inch floppy drive. That was outdated then, and times have changed. Computers and software are a huge part of what is going on today.”
Bluebeam Blog: Why are unions important for the construction industry?
Triplett: There’s need for a skilled workforce. The unions are important because they train this skilled workforce. If you want the building done right the first time, completed on schedule, and without having to fix everything on every single floor, you’ve got to use skilled labor. Construction is not a factory job where you can pick somebody off the street and they are trained in a few days. Construction professionals spend years becoming skilled in their craft, learning how to be safe on the jobsite, knowing exactly what they’re going to be doing, what the next steps are, and a skilled tradesman knows three steps ahead of what they’re going to be doing.
Bluebeam Blog: As a veteran carpenter, what’s your perspective on the importance of training, specifically with technology?
Triplett: Without the proper training, you are learning from the older veteran that has done something the same way for the past 20 years, but things change. If they don’t change with the times, then they’re going to be teaching the old way and, more than likely, the wrong way. That’s why it’s vital to have the constant training. We’re professional carpenters. A circular saw was once a new technology on the jobsite. Now you can’t live without it. Same holds true for a framing gun. No one can hand-nail a wall as fast as a pneumatic nailer. Now we have electronic technologies that are entering our working environment. Everyone will have to learn how to navigate digital prints and soon they will need to know how to use augmented reality. Those that adapt and learn will stay employable.
"You either adapt or die. There's no going backwards. Tablets are on site; paper's not going to be coming back. So, it's vital that people in the trades learn the tech that's out there—otherwise you're going to not be as useful for the contractor."– Craig Triplett, Assistant Director at Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Program
Bluebeam Blog: What is the process for trades workers entering your training? How does it all work?
Triplett: We have a four-year apprenticeship training program. We call our apprenticeship a scholarship. The person coming into our program doesn’t have to pay any tuition, they pay about $300 for all the books that they will need for the next four years and when they aren’t in school, they are working for a contractor getting paid apprentice wages. They will attend a week of school every quarter for a total of 13 weeks of training in our center. Every quarter, they will come back for a class and every class is going to be different. The remaining time of their apprenticeship is spent on the jobsite learning hands-on from the journeymen on the jobsite. Even when they complete their apprenticeship, they still need to come back here to learn the new products and techniques. It’s continued education.
By the Numbers
27 ½ – Average age of a carpenter entering the program
230 – The number of free skill advancement classes offered
520 – Hours of training in the 4-year apprenticeship training program
7,500 – Average number of people in the skill advancement program each year
Bluebeam Blog: On the union level, are you seeing workers getting more work from the GCs because they have some technology skills?
Triplett: Oh absolutely. We have some second-year apprentices that are doing the layout for the contractors in high rises downtown because they understand the tech. They’re doing it when second-year trade’s workers should be the ones doing the actual work of building the building. We have numerous third-years running jobs as foreman because of their skills, abilities and training. We have superintendent training programs, we have leadership training programs, and there are career advancements for each step you’re going up; it’s basically free. So, it’s not a dead-end job; it’s a career.
Bluebeam Blog: Where are the training programs held?
Triplett: The Chicago Regional Council covers the northern two-thirds of Illinois, and we have training centers throughout the state that cover our regions.
Bluebeam Blog: How are the programs funded?
Triplett: We have partnerships. The contractors fund our program. We receive no state or federal funding for our program. We have numerous manufacturers and tech providers that assist in our program being able to teach what we need to teach. Our partnership with Bluebeam is tremendous because if we had to pay for everything, we wouldn’t be able to teach their product to our members. They have been very generous to the Carpenters Union and they know how important it is for people to learn their program since it is what is being used by the offices. A lot of manufacturers also help us out by donating tools and equipment. It’s pretty impressive. In the end, we just want to make sure that the carpenter of today is ready for tomorrow.