The second 15 years of existence for the National Training Fund (NTF), now known as the International Training Institute, were — like many teenage growing periods — full of momentum. Now that the organization had been well established, one thing was constant and inevitable: change.

Initiatives created in 1986 made a lasting impact on the organization’s development and included an extensive updated library with film, videotape and laser discs; the first one-week training course specially structured for training coordinators (now referred to as the Coordinators’ Conference); and the NTF embarking on the first national program for the certification of testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) technicians.

By the end of 1987, the 100th anniversary of what is now known as the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers was afoot, and the NTF was called to oversee the construction of an exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the union as well as the NTF and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

The 100th anniversary display at the National Building Museum.
Courtesy: A Zahner Company

The exhibition celebrated a century in sheet metal and, according to a brochure given out by the National Building Museum, proclaimed “Sheet metal is all around us, yet frequently goes unrecognized.”

This exhibit, consisting of three massive structures, was not going unrecognized. The project would later be known as the largest volunteer initiative ever overseen and collectively created and constructed by union members from across the country.

More than 600 journey-level workers and apprentices worked around the clock, seven days a week, to construct and install the exhibition, beginning in December 1987 and completing the work in time for the January 1988 exhibition opening. The exhibit was open to the public through that August.

Designed by architect Frank O. Gehry, the exhibition structures contained 35,000 square feet of sheet metal and 20,000 pounds of structured steel. They were built of terne-coated and galvanized steel, brass, copper and aluminum and incorporated skylights and photovoltaic panels.

The three structures explored three facets of sheet metal work, including present-day work, history and a large display of the NTF’s antique tool collection (some dating back to the 1700s). Also included in the installation was a demonstration workshop where on weekends journey-level workers and apprentices volunteered to display their craft.

Although the exhibit was eventually dismantled and the materials recycled, the museum still holds possession of the artifacts that were on display.

“Change is a normal part of life, and as technology evolves, the pace of change gets ever faster,” said W.L. “Bill” Fillippini, the NTF’s first administrator, describing the project. He retired after nearly 18 years of service in December 1988. “We have built a window to the future; within is a vision for the union sheet metal workers, their union contractors and for the people for this great land; it is one of dynamic growth and self-fulfillment in the years ahead. Great value received for the time and money expended, I do believe.”

Fillippini’s retirement made way for Gerald “Jerry O” Olejniczak, the first NTF regional coordinator and executive assistant to the administrator, to take the reins on Jan. 1, 1989.

Although change was again inevitable under new leadership, the changing of the guard didn’t cause the NTF to lose its momentum.

From the beginning, Olejniczak took interest in establishing the D9.1 specification for welding sheet metal with the American Welding Society. Also known as the Sheet Metal Welding Code, which is still used today, Olejniczak worked diligently to promote the specification to the status of welding code, which is enforceable by law.

He also took two of Fillippini’s initiatives and ran with them — he continued to upgrade training materials and focused on training instructors throughout the industry at Ohio State University, surpassing all expectations.

During this time, specialized training was becoming more prevalent and included the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB) certification; a certified welding program; confined spaces training; asbestos abatement; Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) training; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) training; hazardous communication training; chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) training; and the creation of the Building Inspectors Program.

Every training, every program allowed the education arm of the union to progress.

“There’s an old Spanish saying that seems too obvious: ‘If you don’t walk forward, you will fall behind,’” Olejniczak said in a memo. “Nothing stands still these days. Unprecedented change is underway on many fronts, but none so important as the changes taking place in the workplace.”

In 1995, trade shows became a priority as a way to market union members as experts in their fields. The NTF put a great emphasis in expanding the output of information to trade publications, industry groups and government organizations. The NTF booth created for that year’s International Exposition of the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) was titled “Together, We Do It Better” and received “considerable attention” from the 36,881 professionals in attendance, according to one document. Held in Chicago, the event still holds the all-time attendance record.

Between the National Building Museum exhibition and the ASHRAE trade show, the NTF was growing up and gaining notice nationwide. Another change, however, was on the horizon.

In November 1995, Olejniczak retired. He was said to have listed his greatest accomplishments in the administrator position as including updating the core curriculum; increasing the math skills and new materials available to all apprentices; on-site testing and certification in welding, an initiative he called “innovative”; increasing work opportunities through education; teaching members safer work practices; and a “diverse training program unequaled either nationally or locally,” he said.

Richard Peck, then the administrator for the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI), was asked to fill in as Funds administrator while the search for a more permanent administrator was finalized. He held the position for 11 months before Robert “Marty” Martinez took over as executive administrator that December, a year after Olejniczak’s retirement.

While Martinez made some changes, such as reorganizing the NTF into four sections — training and education, environmental services, health and safety, and research and development — his largest impact was also the largest change in the NTF’s history.

In the spring of 1998, during the May 5-6 meeting, the NTF Trustees approved changing the organization’s name to the International Training Institute (ITI) for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry.

According to a press release announcing the name change, “The focus on new and emerging areas such as service work, clean rooms and high-tech markets, as well as traditional training programs for apprentices and journey persons, brought about the need for a re-engineered identity for the training arm of the industry … to keep pace with the ever increasingly sophisticated audience in our market, the National Training Fund Trustees have approved a new look and name change for our institution.”

The reasons listed in the release for the name change also provided a map for the ITI to follow over the coming years. The idea was to increase potential recruitment through an updated presentation of the industry; provide a fresh marketing approach to secure new areas of employment; create additional work hours; and gain recognition from organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ASHRAE and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). The new name also was chosen to cast a more positive image for vocational counselors and young people seeking a career as well as communicate the focus on new and emerging areas.

The release also stated, “The new logo possesses strong implications of our mission and sustains a layout that will hold its strength through the remainder of this century and well into the 21st.”

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