By NATALIE WRIGHT
With the signing of a 15-year contract on Aug. 13, Washtenaw Community College and the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sprinkler Fitters, Welders and HVACR Technicians (UA) solidified their long-standing partnership.
For one week in August for the last 25 years, WCC has been host to thousands of UA members – skilled trades professionals and mentors from around the country – who come to campus for instructor training.
At the end of the week, the instructors return home to share what they learned.
This training program is cited as one of the most successful skilled trades programs around the world, WCC President Rose Bellanca said before signing the contract.
“Just as teaching is the heart of our college, I know it’s also the heart of the UA,” Bellanca said. “As to why our partnership is so successful – we have both made a commitment to a lifetime of learning.”
The 53-year-old training program moved to WCC from Purdue University 25 years ago because a vice president at the UA had connections with the college, UA President William Hite said.
“And we couldn’t be more happy with it today,” Hite said. “We get good cooperation from everybody at the school and the community. They treat us like family.”
WCC Trustee Stephen Gill, who attended the contract signing, said this relationship is a win-win in many ways.
“It’s an opportunity to have a mutually beneficial relationship where we’re using the educational environment and the resources of the college to develop people that are contributing to the infrastructure of Michigan and of the nation,” Gill said.
The 15-year contract also provides a sense of stability to the economics of the college, Gill added.
If the past 25 years are any indication, the college and the surrounding community will reap many benefits from the extension of this relationship.
“Each year, a conservative estimate of spending in the community by UA members and guests is about $5 million,” said Mary Kerr, president of the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But the benefits of the partnership are not just financial. Noted just as often is the mutual respect and friendship between the UA guests and their hosts.
“I have just grown in my respect for what you do,” Bellanca told UA members at the signing. “Too often, we take for granted the occupations that fall under these skilled trades.
“Let’s recognize that these professions serve to support the infrastructure of our country and impact economic growth. It’s time to give these professions the credit they deserve.”
This respect for the UA members is shared by everyone who encounters them throughout the week, Kerr said.
“The whole community embraces them,” she said. “We recognize what they bring to the community, but we also appreciate they’re such gracious guests.”