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Saturday, November 22, 2014

WCC and United Association Celebrate 20 Years of Training

A milestone will be celebrated when the United Association Instructor Training Program convenes at Washtenaw Community College August 8-14. This year marks the 20th anniversary of an educational partnership that has served almost 30,000 new and returning instructors-in-training for the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.

“I am extremely impressed with the rigor required of the professionals who attend the UA Summer Instructor Training Program,” said WCC President Larry Whitworth. “They come in from every state and province in North America and return to their local communities to share the latest knowledge, technology, and techniques with the next generation of plumbers and pipe fitters. This is certainly one of the finest and most comprehensive instructor training and education programs anywhere in the country.”

The UA Instructor Training Program (ITP) is a unique professional development opportunity for its members. To gain certification as a UA instructor, journeymen must complete intensive one-week training sessions each year for five years that are related to the technology in their profession and teaching methodology.

Much has changed since the UA chose WCC as the new location for its annual training program in 1990. Roughly 1,220 skilled tradesmen enrolled that first year; last year there were over 1,800 from across the U.S. and Canada.

The initial program offered 75 non-credit professional development classes. Today full college credit is awarded in 115 classes, which can be taken on the WCC campus or online from the College throughout the year. Washtenaw also turns UA apprentice classes into college credits through the UA STAR program.

“College credit for apprenticeship on this level was a long time in coming, and it’s been really exciting to see that change over the last several years,” said Dan Welch, WCC’s UA program administrator.

This expanding educational partnership was instrumental in the UA establishing a permanent presence at WCC in 2003 with the opening of the Great Lakes Regional Training Center. The Great Lakes Center also serves as the hub of the UA’s distance learning operation and features interactive television capabilities in all of its classrooms, including a 48-seat lecture hall. These facilities are in great demand during UA week for both the ITP and the International Apprentice Competition, which also is held each August.

In addition to instructional support and credit earned for apprenticeship studies, WCC now provides distance learning administration to the United Association, including assisting UA instructors with setting up online courses and certifications.

“I’ve appreciated how much the teaching technology has grown over the years, and it’s been interesting to see how rapidly the UA has adapted to that new teaching technology,” says Welch.

Today sustainable energy technology is shaping industry policies and practices. UA professionals receive instruction in WCC classrooms on the newest technology, such as geothermal wells, heat pumps, sophisticated instrumentation, and medical gas configurations.

The College also has developed four associate degree programs that are available to UA members. They include Sustainable Technologies in HVACR (for service techs), Construction Supervision (foreman and large project management), Industrial Training (apprentice instructor), and a Journeyman General Studies degree that allows members to create their own paths. WCC will soon be adding Sustainable Technology in Plumbing and Sustainable Technology in Sprinkler Fitting.

When the UA instructors-in-training arrive in Ann Arbor, they bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. During what would ordinarily be a quiet week after the local art fairs and before university students return for class, UA members and their families book roughly 12,000 nights in hotel rooms and pack local restaurants, spending about $5 million in the process.

“We are thrilled to have the United Association back in Washtenaw County,” said Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have developed a fantastic relationship with this group, and we are looking forward to welcoming them in style at our block party on Aug. 10.”

This year marks the 56th year for the UA program, which was located at Purdue University before moving to WCC in 1990. Contacts made through this 20-year relationship were instrumental in encouraging the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to choose Ann Arbor as its new instructor training location beginning this August.

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