How New Generations are Reviving Vocational Education | Work Done Right with Tim Coleman

In this episode, Wes Edmiston interviews Tim Coleman, a recruiter and union member, to address the labor shortage in the trades industry. They discuss the need for collaboration between educational institutions, government agencies, and trade organizations to grow the industry’s skilled labor workforce. Tim emphasizes debunking stereotypes and promoting trades as a viable career path, highlighting efforts to increase diversity within the industry. 
The conversation also focuses on the challenges faced by the education system in supporting vocational education. They discuss the lack of funding for career and technical education (CTE) courses, which hinders program growth. The episode underscores the importance of destigmatizing trade careers and expanding vocational education initiatives, with Tim telling engaging stories from his experience recruiting a new generation of workers.  

About Tim Coleman

Tim Coleman is a Recruitment and Outreach Specialist for the United Association of Welders, Plumbers, Fitters and HVAC Techs. He specifically works with the Local 669 Sprinkler Fitters, who save lives by providing the installation, inspection, testing and repair of automated Fire Suppression Systems.  
Tim is also a veteran. He served as an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps for 6 years after which he became a Plant Manager for many years at different locations across the U.S. and Canada. 

Top 3 Episode Takeaways

  1. The Need for Skilled Trades: The episode highlights the growing deficit in the number of tradespeople, not just in the construction industry but also in other sectors like farming, oil and gas, and manufacturing. The guest emphasizes the importance of addressing this shortage through a multi-pronged approach, including increasing awareness about trade careers, focusing on education and workforce development, and overcoming the stigma associated with skilled trades. 
  2. Women in Trades: The discussion emphasizes the need to increase diversity in the trades, particularly by encouraging more women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated industries. The guest mentions pre-apprenticeship programs designed to support women in trades, and highlights the historical role of women in industries like shipbuilding during World War II. The episode stresses the importance of creating equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of gender or race, to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce. 
  3. Education System and Funding: Reform is needed in the education system to better support trade careers. Tim explains the lack of structured programs and funding for career and technical education (CTE) courses, specifically in construction and industrial arts. The conversation highlights the value of intervening earlier in the educational system to provide students with information and opportunities in the trades, challenging the societal focus on four-year college degrees that may not align with individual career paths.

Episode Transcript

Wes Edmiston:  

Tim Coleman, welcome to the show.  


Tim Coleman:  

Thank you, Wes. Thanks for having me.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, thanks for joining us here. Would you mind just to get started off, would you mind telling us a little more about your background and what it is that you do now and how it is that you got involved into the union?  


Tim Coleman:  

Absolutely. So I’m going to start off with my involvement with the union. So I am a contractor, so I work as a recruiter that does recruitment and outreach for Local Six Six Nine Sprinkler Fitters. So my views and my opinions are not that of the United Association, are international or of Local Six Six Nine.  


And I am a proud UA member, a proud member of Local Six Six Nine. So how did I get there? So I transition as the Marine Corps. Loved every single minute that I was in the Marine Corps. Loved the Marines.  


That was the best part of it. Loved the fact that we trained. We trained to win. We were competent and we took care of each other. And that really is the most important thing. We have a model. Of sempridelis, which means when you’re down on the ground, there’s somebody that’s going to be there with you.  


That’s in our DNA. So I transitioned out, really didn’t know what I was getting into. I went to work for now, a Fortune 100 company. It was in operations. It was a rapidly growing company, and that was exciting.  


And that’s something that I really enjoyed, was just the massive growth. The company that tripled their size every two years. I mean, it was incredible. And the people that I worked with, whether they were on the third shift, the second shift, and the first shift, so I was in the plan.  


I transitioned out in 2007 and started a staffing recruiting company and hit the ground running, was really excited, really looked at and leveraged relationships that I had for my time in the Marine Corps, but also my time with the company I was with, and hit the ground running.  


But the economy had a different idea. The economy went completely upside down. It got really brutal. What was interesting, though, and I survived, and I think I survived because I’m a Marine and I didn’t quit, and I just kept a positive attitude.  


But one of the ways that I continued to keep the business afloat was in electrical, mechanical, field technicians, and also inside plant maintenance individuals. And I didn’t go into business to focus on that.  


But even when the economy was down, that’s what companies were hiring, whether it was from my old industry, or whether it was in the aluminum industry, or whether it was in the steel industry. Because these individuals and I made.  


Placement fees on individuals that were in their sixties And I was like, I looked at that, I’m like, you got to be kidding me. So I looked further to that as well. Why is this going on? And I started to really just understand that the skilled trades was exiting the workforce and it was exiting the workforce very quickly.  


So I survived by identifying very talented and individuals that I mentioned, an individual who was retired, but also I brought in a pipeline of veterans, electricians mates from the Navy, helicopter pilots that worked on Apaches or maintenance mechanics or machinist mates.  


So different trades or crafts because the military has 143 different MoS which are job specialties. And not everybody was a fit for what I was looking for. But there was a lot of individuals that were highly skilled and went through a great program.  


So fast forward a couple of years and I’m limping along but surviving. And my youngest, my son, is playing Little League All Stars with a great friend of mine who is a business agent for the Sprinkler Fitters Union.  


And I’ll never forget it. Our boys are 9-10 years old at the time and we’re talking about how does the union, the trade union, his specific union, increase quality of applicants into the apprenticeship program.  


So we talked a couple of different things and mainly my insight was the military and focusing on military that has that skill set. So fast forward, continue my business and my buddy continues to grow his career and impact union members and his trade.  


And our boys are playing high school baseball now and we’re away on a spring trip. And we split a condo and literally we brown papered for about four days, mapping, doing value stream mapping, process improvement on the candidate flow and looked at a number of things.  


And here’s an individual with over 30 years experience in the trade and craft. But also my buddy Mark has incredible leadership experience where he ran departments and ran businesses from the contractor side before he went back into the leadership side.  


So he gives me an opportunity to get in front of the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee in New York State, which is a combination of the union, the labor union, the representative So business agents and then the contractors association.  


Because collaboratively, the JATC work together to train, develop the next generation to support the contractors and their growth and to ensure that our standards of excellence are being met. So we agreed on a retainer, basically, and it was more of a marketing role.  


And this was an organization that was identifying individuals from Craigslist as an example, and was able to increase the candidate flow and also focus to increase the candidate flow by looking at other individuals that may be coming from underserved communities.  


So increase the population of those competent applicants. So that continued to grow. As why don’t you do this market? Why don’t you jump on another market? Why don’t you help us in an area here where we’re also having trouble?  


So that relationship has grown. It’s just been phenomenal. I’ve learned so much. I became a union member after doing that role as a recruiter on your stratus consulting group two months later. And I asked my friend Mark, I said, how do we become a union member?  


He goes, what? I said, well, I want credibility. I also want to give back and to say that I’m Tim from local 669, not Tim from stratus consulting where there’s a lot of confusion. So I don’t compete with organizers and the business agents.  


I’m there to support and to really just maximize our resources. As somebody that does this every single day, seven days a week sometimes, about recruiting and creating outreach and creating awareness about a specialty trade, really, because you don’t wake up and saying people don’t wake up saying, I’m going to become a sprinkler fitter.  


Even though we have 15,000 members in our union, we’re nationwide. We cut our roots. Back in 1911, during the garment triangle shortwaves fire, the Sullivan huey fire act was passed. That’s the fire that changed America, if you remember that, not to give a class on U.S. history, but it was a sweatshop. It was 146 young immigrant women died in 18 minutes in a fire because the doors were locked. The fire escape collapsed. There was only one elevator that worked out of three fire hoses, reached the 7th floor.  


The factory was on the 8th, and New York City passed the Sullivan huey fire act, and now automated fire suppression systems are required in every new business and any modification.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, no, that’s great to hear.  


It kind of segues really well into the question that’s on my mind is you talked about different areas where you’ve looked in order to aid in staffing through the whole of the six six nine. I. But there’s still definitely, from what I’ve witnessed firsthand, what everybody keeps talking about, there’s definitely a big deficit in the amount of tradespeople that we have.  


So I keep saying all of these announcements for additional projects that are getting announced, what are we going to do? How are we going to staff all of these projects? 


Tim Coleman: 

Yeah, that’s the big question, million dollar question.  


But we’re at a crossroads, and I think we’re at a very healthy crossroads for our country in our economy and our education system. So the building union building construction trades and all of construction in general is not the only industry that’s facing this.  


You look at the average age of farmers, farm owners in America today is 59. There is going to be by the year 2030 in the oil and gas industry, a shortage of about a million workers. In manufacturing today, there are over a million open positions.  


So you look at the union building trades as just another segment. How are we going to do it? It’s got to be a full pronged approach to this. And I’d like to see more from the education system because our departments of labor at the federal and state level are doing incredible things.  


Our workforce development organization, whether it’s New York State Workforce Development Institute, Niatap and all these other trade related organizations like the association of Career Technical Educators.  


And I just got back from the Oregon State Conference, and I’m at this week at the Work Based Learning Coordinators Conference in New York State. So you have educators that are focused on that, but the emphasis still isn’t there.  


In the emphasis where there is a stigma. And I think that’s probably the number one thing. Get over the stigma. Let’s get real. Let’s talk about the truth, the fact that you don’t fail into construction.  


And I think that’s really the most important thing that women and men and parents need to realize is that you don’t fail into construction. We’re still on this track were pushing four year schools. They were pushing all these other opportunities.  


Yet 40% of students that go to college drop out in Georgetown. Georgetown did a study. They found that the top are one third of the top SAT test achievers. So the top SAT scores one third of those students do not go to college.  


And then there’s all these other things about summer melt. I’m going to go to college. But you know what? There’s about 20% that say they’re going to go to college and never set foot on the college campus.  


Yet they take out debt. So we offer the trades, the union building trades, america’s Best Kept Secret, which is a pathway to the middle class through a registered apprenticeship program. So I think getting the word out is how we’re going to do it.  


And I mentioned there’s a short term, there’s a long term. The short term is that there are so many individuals out there today, and people say people don’t want to work today. I disagree with that. I really do, because I think there’s women and men that want to work, and they want good paying job us.  


They want to join a union today because they know they’re going to have a living wage. They’re going to have someone that has their back. They’re going to have the opportunity to retire with dignity, and they never envision themselves having that opportunity.  


So short term and long term. Increasing our diversity. Women make up 43% of the workforce today. There are incredible women pre-apprenticeship programs all over the country. And it started with Seattle’s alternative new employment for women.  


Chicago Women in Trades, Oregon Trades Women. These are programs designed specifically to help women and primarily women that are in economic need to find a great pathway. And it’s not for every woman.  


Not everyone wants to go into trade, but we all know the story of Rosie the river, which was 9 million women that worked during World War II to build the ships, the tanks, and the planes. And I have two aunts that were Rosie’s in Chicago during World War II.  


These are roles that women can do. And I also think you look at maybe a couple of generations ago, friends, brother, in laws, friends, brothers, and in laws. That’s the only way you can get into a union that’s different.  


Today, we have caucuses. We have caucuses for people of color. We have caucuses for women. We have organizations that recognize all people, regardless of their gender, their identity, their race. So this is all hands on deck.  


I mean, we have enough work, all industries to create pathways for everyone. And why not? Once you do that, then all this other stuff that we have going on. I think in America, a lot of that stuff, and we don’t get into that because it’s just ugly stuff.  


A lot of that takes care of itself when you have individuals making a living wage.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah. An interesting thing I learned honestly just yesterday, I was with my in laws. My brother in law is a principal of a school district, and over the weekend, I was also at a Skills USA conference.  


Love the organization, what they’re doing. I was talking with my brother in law about the organization, and we were talking about kind of the funding of that initiative. And one of the interesting things that I learned with this is that at least in the state of Illinois way, there isn’t a program in the state in order to get a grant for CTE courses.  


There is for AG, for things like FFA, but there isn’t a set structured program already in place for real designated CTE construction, the industrial arts that doesn’t exist, which is like well, you wonder why it is that these programs aren’t taking off.  


Maybe it’s because we haven’t actually designated a slice of the pie out there in order to get this to touch on something you said earlier. You’re absolutely right. It’s not unique to construction that we’re deficient in labor.  


Every industry out there is hurting in order to get not just people, but qualified people, capable people. It’s something that we’re really all experiencing. But I agree that destigmatization of working in the industry, it’s something that I personally felt for a long time while I was in there, and also just intervening early, earlier in the educational system would be a value, and it’ll be a value to everybody.  


Right. Most of the people that go to college aren’t even working in their degree field, so that makes little to no sense.  


Tim Coleman:  

Yeah, I heard a story. I was at an event last week, and friend of mine, he’s an organizer.  


His name is Marcus with a great local, 81 UA local in central New York. And he was explaining to these students, he said. This summer, we’re going to be in the school and we’re going to be doing an expansion.  


He says, we’re the women and men that are using the Porter John’s out in the parking lot of your school. We’re wearing boots, we’re wearing jeans, we’re sweaty, we’re working hard, but we make more money than anyone that works in that school, including your administrators.  


And they were like, wow. And I’m like, all right, I’m using that line. I love that story because it’s so true. It just talks about there is this stigma, okay, they’re using a Porter John or they’re out back.  


But these are the men and women that have worked their way into the middle class. And now what’s great about the social justice part of being a unionized worker and union is to create that opportunity for as many people as possible.  


What opportunities do we have? How can we intervene to get this message out there so that people the next generation can start seeing that this is a great career opportunity, that this is a very great option, it’s one of the better options out there available to them to have a good, long, stable career?  


What can we do? How can industry professionals be advocates to the next generation and for their industry? And what can we leaders do in order to get this message out there? I think resources, economic resources influencing the education system, making sure that we have elected officials that are allocating resources to workforce development projects, especially for those that are coming from underserved communities.  


So this comes from the top down and it comes from the top down. With investment of resources and media messaging. I guess we have to follow the money, right? Like anything else. Why are we having these issues?  


Why can’t we build a bridge instead of a wall? Why can’t we do it the right way to increase the workflow of individuals that want to work? I’m constantly out and about of partnering with organizations over that same time frame where the messaging changed.  


This is right before the pandemic. So I think that big, huge shift with the stigma and the focus on the trades and manufacturing started to change, and then the pandemic hit. But you have today things like career jams.  


You have trades day. You have trade night. I did two family nights last week where it was all parents and students, and I encourage all parents to come out. One of the schools I went to, the most conversation I had was with students because they didn’t have that parental support, but these students still came.  


And I’m like, those are students that I want on my team because they’re hungry, they see something else for themselves. And then over the course of last week, I did four career days. Four career trade days.  


Those didn’t happen three, four years ago. So they are happening today and they’re happening more frequently. So I think it’s just resources to really just identify that and have a presence, have a voice partner.  


I have an opportunity. I’m in the business advisor board of a number of technical schools. We talk about these events that include all trades. How do we create the events? Get the most bang for the buck and students are showing up.  


There’s two 19 year olds that came out of the inner city in the Albany area that are working right now for us as multi state travelers. And they work for a great company which is doing 49 chip plants today.  


Chip plants and electric vehicle battery plants. They’re doing everything. It’s a great company. I mean, they are on a roll, and they take care of their people. And now these students have an opportunity to come back to their high school and tell the story.  


That week one, their check is a 19 year old right. That came out of the city is over $1,700. Do the math on that. You don’t fail into this. And I call them, and I say, how’s it going, guys? And I call men.  


I said, how’s it going, man? How are you doing, man? They’re like, Couldn’t be better. What you said is exactly the truth. Those are individuals that went through a pre apprenticeship program. My friend Kareem Barry runs a program called Multi Craft apprenticeship preparedness program in three markets in New York State.  


He just received a $600,000 grant from Senator Gillibrand. And Kareem is an alignment out of the IVW, and he prepares these young women and men for union trade careers because he’s been there, he’s retired IVW.  


He’s given back, so he increases their chances of survival. So how do we get there? Emphasizing where the money is, investing more into these pre apprenticeship programs that give some of those soft skills and those skills for maybe individuals that missed out on that in the CTE program, that didn’t have that opportunity doesn’t mean they can’t be a great trades person.  


Maybe we need to focus and train just a little bit more. And I think you see, like the secretary Marty Walsh are. In the emphasis that he has had from the Department of labor to focus and to support these types of programs because he knows they work and they do work.  


And I’ve seen it firsthand with Kareem’s program and I see it firsthand with Oregon trades with it as well. So I think that’s another pathway is that we need to get real on that and look at not just the money grabbers, because once you start opening up the door, then you get money grabbers and they lead to a pathway to nowhere.  


When there’s collaboration with the Building Trade Council and the union building trades and there’s that skin in the game and there’s that support, whether it’s a multicore craft curriculum that’s Naptube based, now you have a real pathway.  


Now you have a real shot for a large percentage of our population. Right. We didn’t need to expand 15 years ago, right? We do today. Everybody’s retiring, right. And everybody has a need. Yeah. I’m thinking also that potentially even the onset of COVID and people saying who is and who isn’t?  


We’ll say an essential worker might have had something to do with this recent transition as well, where people are opening their eyes to this idea that well, even like you pointed out earlier when 2008 hit, these are the areas where you’re still seeing some level of success in recruitment.  


Why is that? Because these are the jobs that stay in demand.  


Wes Edmiston:  

No, there’s not always multibillion dollar projects that are being built, but seemingly pretty consistently those are going on. Maintenance is still going on, operations are still going on.  


We still have to maintain the infrastructure and to do that we need skilled tradespeople. So, yeah, I think that people are opening their eyes to the idea that it is very stable and can be very lucrative career as well.  


I want to pivot the conversation just a little bit. Toward areas where you see success in your recruitment efforts, places where other people can look in order to get the skilled trades people that they need.  


Maybe other UA representatives are looking in order to fill their skilled trade pipeline or other contracting agencies. So where have you seen the most success? How can people bridge the gap between themselves and those people?  


Tim Coleman:  

I think looking at it from a business standpoint, I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to co teach with the great Doreen Cannon, who’s the president of UA Local in Cleveland. And she’s tagged out, retired.  


And we taught recruitment and outreach at ITP Week, which is instructor Training preparation week. And the version that I taught him was online. So that’s 3000 UA training directors and organizers and business agents that come together every single year to learn not only just on recruitment, but they could be doing the new codes for medical gas lines as an example, or new welding techniques, or how do you deal with opioids in the workplace?  


We train. We invest over $300 million. The UA does every single year in training and outreach. So Doreen and I in this class, and Doreen has been teaching for so long, she’s just incredible. And I got to go in there, had an opportunity for one year while we zoomed in.  


And one thing that I brought into it was having a business plan and introduced it on day one. And each individual that participated walked away with a tangible toolkit. My work that I do. I partner with organizers.  


I’m there to augment that and to expand their resources to support what they do. And then maybe I go into areas that they’re not going into while they’re focusing on their mission. And I can augment and support our contractors by bringing in that unmolded piece of clay.  


And that’s kind of what I do. But so where would I go? The first thing I would do is circle a map and identify, is there a tradeswomen organization in that market? Women make up 53% of our workforce.  


Our women that are union members are some of the best union members we have. There is solidarity, there’s strength, there’s compassion, and there’s skill and the success. You can’t deny it. So that would be number one.  


Number two is other organizations that are pre apprenticeship organizations. And the Department of labor at the state and federal level has incredible resources. There are programs for those that are in transition or formerly incarcerated.  


There’s also the military. The union building trades through the North American Building Trade Union has a program called Hummers the Hard Hats, which is a pipeline, basically, that was started and head up by Lieutenant General Coffee and back in that day with a great leader, Anne Trankel, who runs New York State Helmets to Hardheads program.  


Since that time, Helmets to Hardheads put in over 42,000 veterans into the union building trade. 42,000. And that has been a huge pipeline. So there’s not only active duty, there’s also National Guard.  


Um, you know, I partner with state National Guard. You know, I had a couple weeks ago, I I flew flew to the West Coast on Easter Sunday, came back the following Saturday. That night, I got off a plane.  


I was up at Fort Drum. I was talking to 250 National Guard members because I had an opportunity to be out in the field with them. And I’m like, are you kidding me? 250 from all over the state of New York.  


So it’s getting out. It’s kind of like, all right, well, here’s a population. Here is an opportunity, target of opportunity. This is on my sales hit list if you want to be a salesperson about it, right?  


How do I make that work? How do I hit that? How do I follow up with that? Getting involved with the school districts, having a voice, I think that is critical. There are CTE programs. There are state CTE organizations.  


There are state programs. And then just benchmarking. Some of the states we have are just incredible. The state of Minnesota, Wisconsin, the programs of Washington state, washington state, a lot of their programs are like the gold standard.  


Then there’s other states that are kind of like dragging behind. Dragging behind. You look at the state of Indiana, the collaboration between the union building trade and the state community college system.  


Ivy Tech this goes back to when the great governor Evan By was the governor state and the head of the community college. The president of the community college system, I believe son or daughter became an IBW apprentice and saw, okay, this is a pathway.  


And Governor By is like, all right, we’re a manufacturing state, you know? Our students, the small percentage of going to college, the rest are going to go into careers. So how do we work together with the unions to develop these individuals?  


And now that you look at a couple of generations later, you have individuals with two year degrees that are working in a tier one automotive manufacturing plan. So I think that collaboration. I think in general, and again, this is my opinion, we try to be too competitive.  


Don’t go that route, come our route. Well, let’s work together on this because this is a national problem and if we all win, we all win. It’s as simple as that. So I think just that how do we take care of our own needs and our own goals?  


But look at the big picture.  


Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah, it’s a great pitch to put out there. I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of those things. Also, a lot of people, you’ll hear, especially the younger generations, are saying that they want a career, that they feel like it means something, like it contributes toward some of these these objectives, the things that people care about.  


You know, as far as, you know, helping out one another about, you know, during the pandemic, you know, how we can alleviate some of these issues how we can alleviate the issues that are contributing toward global warming or something.  


And you just touched on all of it, right? This is how it is that you are providing for yourself and your family, those around you, but also giving back immediately to your local community and contributing to a cause.  


Um, but no, that that was very, very well said.  


Rapid Fire Questions 

Wes Edmiston:  

Tim, we’re running right up on time. We’re just going to finish this out with a few rapid fire questions to get to know Tim Coleman, the man. Not just Tim Coleman, the professional.  


Where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled?  


Tim Coleman:  



Wes Edmiston:   

What one word best describes you? 


Tim Coleman:  



Wes Edmiston:  

Great. What is your favorite movie?  


Tim Coleman:  

Wow. Bulldurham.  


Wes Edmiston:  

What is it?  


Tim Coleman:  



Wes Edmiston: 

All right. What is your dream job?  


Tim Coleman:  



Wes Edmiston:  

Coach of what?  


Tim Coleman:  

Baseball. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. I had an opportunity, my oldest rode competitively, her team’s on boathouse road, absolutely university, great program. I didn’t coach that.  


I know nothing about the sport, but I pulled the trailer and I pulled the food truck. So if I could learn how to coach rowing, I would love that. My son played college baseball, but also played basketball and then my middle was a swimmer.  


And I just have so much respect for coaches because coaches that I had I still keep in contact with my 8th grade coach and I call him coach. And I was blessed with especially in high school and I had a chance to play college athletics.  


But in high school, I have two coaches that are in the New England Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. I think a lot of our if we would emphasize more coaching, I think a lot of these problems that we have in society today would go away.  


 Wes Edmiston: 

There are certainly people that make an impact on the lives of people through the whole duration of that person’s life and career. And definitely it’s an approach that needs to be taken better in interacting with people just on the job, even.  


Right. What it means to truly coach, people will say, oh, provide some level of coaching, but unless you’ve had a great coach, you don’t know what it means to coach. Because I agree with you completely.  


Thank you, sir, for your service and for joining us here on this show. I greatly appreciate you. 


Tim Coleman:  

Thank you, Wes. It was great to be with you and thanks for the opportunity just to share my views and to help you that you’re doing a great job of just creating awareness throughout your channels and keep beating the drum. So thank you.