December 2014

Maintaining Adequate Journeyman to Apprentice Ratios

In last month’s edition of The Ironworker, I wrote about American apprenticeships and briefly described the structured “earn and learn model” as well as the advantages of becoming a registered apprentice in the building trades. In this issue, I want to get more in depth regarding apprentice training and write about the importance of our journeyman and their role and responsibility in mentoring our new members. 

Ironworker apprentice training, as with most construction trade apprenticeships, relies heavily on the On-The-Job Training (OJT) component to ensure a safe and highly skilled workforce. On the job training is typically 80-90 percent of an ironworker apprentices training and education as required by the Department of Labor’s OJT and related training instruction hour requirements. Therefore it is imperative that this important training time be utilized to the fullest extent possible. Apprentices must be surrounded by skilled, knowledgeable journeymen, who are well versed in safe, productive work procedures. The transfer of knowledge and safe work practices can only occur from these well-seasoned journeymen, not from other apprentices. This is why maintaining an adequate journeyman to apprentice ratio is so important.

It’s imperative that journeyman take their role seriously when it comes to mentoring and training apprentices. Developing relationships on and off the job or in or out of the jobsite trailer is crucial to an apprentice’s growth in the trade. Many times a brand new apprentice may feel lost when arriving on their first construction site and the foreman and job steward are usually the first two people they meet. However, it’s the journeymen they are working alongside that has the biggest influence in their career.

Without a proper trainer to trainee ratio there are many negative effects. The owner will receive a lower quality product due to the lack of experience and knowledge of the workforce. Value to the owner may be reduced due to accidents, injuries, and future rework and repairs caused by poor craftsmanship. Contractors will be forced to deal with lower quality work, rework, injuries and higher employee turnover. Workers will suffer with higher injury rates, work related illness and disease, lower knowledge and skill levels, and higher job turnover which many times results in them leaving the industry.

The purpose of apprenticeship is to create a safe, productive, highly skilled workforce. By doing this, those employed in the industry have long-term careers instead of short-term jobs. The entire industry benefits with improved quality, profitability and safety. The ironworking trades are inherently very dangerous, and it is very important to the health and safety of the workers that they receive the best safe work procedure training possible. The structural stability of nearly every bridge, building, factory and plant is affected by the quality of training received by the ironworkers that built it. Proper on the job training is the very foundation upon which apprenticeship was created, without it apprenticeship does not exist.