... Molding New Pipeliners: National Pipeline Training Fund at 25 Years

Molding New Pipeliners: National Pipeline Training Fund Celebrates 25 Years

Caterpillar pipe layers

For many years, the energy pipeline industry has been rewarding for members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). While the industry provides tremendous job opportunities to thousands of Operators every year, pipeline work also comes with many unique challenges.

In today’s world, the need for a highly skilled workforce is greater than ever, and the pipeline industry is no exception. For many different reasons, the construction, repair and maintenance of pipelines is one of the most scrutinized industries in the world. Every piece of the puzzle is looked at. Environmental concerns, workplace safety rules, a rapidly aging infrastructure and finding enough skilled employees to perform this vital work are just some of the ongoing challenges that the pipeline industry faces every day.

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These challenges are precisely why the joint training program developed by the IUOE and Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA) is such a valuable asset to the industry. Experts have stated that filling the void that will soon be left due to a rapidly aging workforce is perhaps the biggest challenge facing not only pipeline contractors, but also the labor organizations (such as the IUOE) that refer their members to employment in the pipeline industry. In earlier years, newer operators were steadily being trained by an older, more experienced generation of operators, in many cases by family members who were already involved in the pipeline industry for decades.

However, beginning around 2008, the massive influx of pipeline work meant that the need for operators was so great that relying solely on the “on-the-job” training methods of the past was simply not going to produce enough experienced operators quickly enough. As such, the pipeline industry realized that it needed to evolve and start recruiting and training Operators from outside of the specialized pipeline industry, such as heavy and highway construction, water and sewer, as well as other building trades. Thus, the importance of the IUOE/PLCA National Pipeline Training Fund (NPTF).

Many of these recruits were already talented Operators with years of experience working in other areas of construction, but who had no prior knowledge of, or actual work experience in, the pipeline industry. Not possessing the specialized skills and techniques needed to succeed in the pipeline industry put these Operators at a distinct disadvantage, as they could not be as productive as other employees who already had years of pipeline experience.

One of the primary reasons that the IUOE/PLCA National Pipeline Training Fund was created was to address this specific training need. Each and every day, the pipeline training programs and classes that have been developed by the NPTF help Operators make the transition from other construction and trades to pipeline work by allowing them to obtain the specialized skills and techniques they need to be productive and succeed in the pipeline industry.

Currently, National Pipeline Training Fund instructional classes range from one week to three weeks, with classes normally being held six days a week for 10 hours a day.

While the training program is constantly being updated and refined, the curriculum of National Pipeline Training Fund classes currently being offered is as follows:

  • Angle Dozer Training
  • Excavator Training
  • Sideboom Training
  • HDD Training
  • Deckhand Pipelifter Training
  • Vacuworx Pipelifter Training
  • Hydro-Excavation Training
  • Pipe Bending/Engineering Training
  • Maintenance/Rehabilitation Training
  • Mat Handling & Bridge Building Training
  • Winch/Hill Work Training
  • Hydro-testing
  • Forwarder Training
  • Creek/Waterway Crossings Training
  • Specialty Task Training

The National Pipeline Training Fund uses two different training locations to conduct these classes. The main site is the IUOE’s state-of-the-art International Training & Education Center (ITEC) located in Crosby, Texas, which opened in 2018. The NPTF also conducts classes at IUOE Local 181’s training facility in Boston, Kentucky. This satellite training site is primarily used to conduct winching/hill training due to the unique, natural terrain.

The ITEC facility is a 225-acre campus where IUOE members are provided with training, lodging, airfare, meals and amenities at no cost to them. The pipeline training program that is offered to IUOE members by the NPTF at the ITEC campus is far and away the best training available in the pipeline industry. One reason for this is that the campus is large enough for training instructors to replicate actual workplace conditions. For example, during the National Pipeline Training Fund’s Advanced Classes, a half-mile horseshoe shaped pipeline is constructed from start to finish in the same way it would be done on an actual jobsite. After the pipeline is completed, the next class tracts the pipeline as a “take up and relay” project and removes the pipeline. This training is extensive, in depth, rigorous and — quite frankly — as real as it gets without being on an actual, working jobsite.

This year marks 25 years of the National Pipeline Training Fund providing top notch training in the pipeline industry. As the industry continues to change and face new challenges, the NPTF will continue to play a huge role in training future IUOE pipeline operators for the next 25 years and beyond. If you have any questions or would like to obtain additional information about the IUOE/PLCA National Pipeline Training Fund, contact NPTF@iuoe.org.

Bryan D. Abel is director of the IUOE/PLCA National Pipeline Training Fund.

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