In mid-March, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all schools to be closed, amongst fears of the coronavirus.
DeWine’s decision forced training centers across the state to rethink how they could perform the vital task of providing critical education to apprentices and some additional training to journeymen.
With training centers closed to foot traffic, the only option was to go online.
With various assistance from the International Training level down to individual Local JATCs, online classes and remote learning have helped keep apprentices connected to their trainers, and most importantly, continue to educate members.
According to Rob Gartner, Sheet Metal Worker Local 24 JATC Columbus and South Point Administrator and Training Coordinator, for the past two years, the JATC has used totaltrack.org for all attendance, grades, curriculum, OJT recording, e-books and lessons. The totaltrack.org database was developed by the SMART iTi (International Training Institute) and is available to all union Sheet Metal Workers apprenticeships.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to instructors using Zoom as a method to instruct apprentices.
One drawback though is some apprentices are using their own phones, which can be difficult for a class setting.
“We are currently working to see if we can get every student an iPad from the school to make classes attainable by the students and to make sure they are high quality,” he said. “So far, we have iPads for some of the students and are working on getting them for the others as we speak.”
Gartner called the transition to online learning a challenge. While some of their instructors are just a few years out of the apprenticeship, others retired from the field years ago. He is leaning on the instructors, who embrace the challenge of new technology, to lead the JATC through this next phase of skilled trade education.
“I feel like after COVID-19 is not a threat, we will have learned from this experience and will have new tools and new ways to train apprentices and skilled tradespeople,” Gartner added.
Unlike some other JATCs, SMW 24 was fortunate. They finished their lab work prior to the “Stay at Home” order and the remaining few weeks of their school year is left for related instruction (RI) out of the books.
When classes resume in August 2020, he believes the JATC will be looking at the possibility of having distance learning and lab work in order to limit the number of people in one room at one time.
“After the COVID-19 emergency is over, I believe we will still be using social distancing especially in a classroom with students,” he said.
Rich Manley, Training Coordinator for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 189 JATC, is utilizing an online learning tool called Blackboard.
Manley said all his apprentices signed up for Blackboard, a virtual learning environment and learning management system, which places the resources needed by students into one area. Through Blackboard, assignments and tests can be posted along with lectures and other material.
Manley added everything is in place for his apprentices to continue earning college credits toward an associate degree.
By switching over to online learning, he is able to keep his apprentices on schedule to advance to the next level.
During these unprecedented times, registered building trades apprenticeship programs continue to find ways to prepare the next generation of skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen.
While JATCs are pushing ahead to finish apprenticeship classes, journeymen upgrade classes are on hold.
For members of Local 24 and 189, upgrading or acquiring certifications will not take place in the near future.
Safety classes, like OSHA-10 and OSHA-30, can be performed online though.