Welders Union Recruits Native Americans

Welders Union Recruits Native Americans

Hoping to fill labor shortage

In an effort to fill a shortage of skilled welders, a trade union has partnered with the Department of Interior's Indian Affairs bureau to recruit and train Native Americans as welders. In September, the Chicago-area Local 597 Pipe Fitters chapter of the United Association said it had enrolled 19 Native Americans in a 16-week fast-track program called Hybrid Welding.

Indian Affairs officials initiated the partnership when they approached the United Association with the idea.

When Local 597 business manager James Buchanan heard about the program, he volunteered to train the workers. "I said, Bring them here.' I want them in our program," Buchanan says. "We need skilled workers. Welding is our lifeblood. It's the most skilled craft to have today. Everything flows through pipe."

Welding instructor Glen Burch teaches Native American apprentices in the Local 597 training program.
The 19 apprentices were selected from eight states nationwide and include 18 men and one woman from the Blackfeet, Winnebago, Leech, Lake, Spokane and Menominee tribes. The participants will take classes in a 198,000-square-foot training center located in Mokena, Ill., which opened in 2005. Once the trainees finish the program they will be placed in communities where their welding skills are needed.

The apprenticeship program is expected to expand nationally, with plans for the Local 469 in Phoenix to start offering training in the near future, says Mike Arndt, United Association training director. The training comes at a critical time for the welding industry. By 2014, 450,000 welders will be needed nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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