The United Association is working with the Department of the Interior/Indian Affairs to address the construction industry’s current skilled worker shortage ― especially in the field of welding. To help find the 450,000 welders that will be needed nationwide by 2014, the UA is reaching out to the Native American workforce.

The organization reports that the Department of Interior/Indian Affairs approached the UA with the idea of training Native Americans for new careers. UA President William Hite approved the concept on the spot. “I thought it was a great idea and I wanted to get it started right away,” he said. James Buchanan, business manager of Local 597, also liked the idea. “When I heard about this program, I said, ‘Bring them here. I want them in our program,’” Buchanan stated. “We need skilled workers. Welding is our lifeblood. It’s the most skilled craft to have today. Everything flows through pipe.”

Currently 19 Native Americans have enrolled as apprentices in its Hybrid Welding Program. They will receive their training at UA Local 597 Pipe Fitters’ Training Center in Mokena, Ill. The UA Hybrid Welding Program is provided at no cost to these apprentices. During the 16-week fast-track program, students attend class for eight hours per day, 40 hours per week. Once the new apprentices complete their training, they will be relocated to communities in need of their welding skills.

The 19 Native American apprentices – 18 men and one woman – were selected from eight states nationwide. They come from a variety of tribes, including the Blackfeet, Winnebago, Leech Lake, Spokane and Menominee tribes.

Local 597 isn’t the only UA local working with the Department of the Interior. Local Union 469 in Phoenix will also be starting the program in the near future.

Across North America, the UA is working to recruit and train quality workers. According to Hite, the UA has made an annual commitment of more than $140 million to training, with a goal of 50,000 apprentices in training this year, creating an infrastructure of mobile training facilities, online studies, accelerated training and other educational options.