Officials paint bright future for new finishing trades program | Local

gov. Greg Gianforte tried his luck Tuesday at bridge painting, but never left Helena College’s Airport Campus, as part of a kickoff to a new program starting in April at the college that teaches skills for finishing trades such as painting, drywall, finishing and glazing.

The governor was wearing a virtual reality headset earlier to load a truck and then to paint a bridge, using equipment that will be part of the course by the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM).

The program was funded in-part by the Montana Legislature in the 2020-2021 session and was supported by the governor. Tuesday’s news conference highlighted Montana’s newest career and technical education program and showcased innovative high-tech equipment and demonstrations. The $2 million career and technical education program will be a blend of FTIUM, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the college.

“This partnership is a really exciting opportunity for the state of Montana,” said Sandra Bauman, dean and chief executive officer of Helena College University of Montana.

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“We are all better served — the students, the school and our employer partners — when we can combine that academic training with those hands-on skills that you can only get in the workplace,” she said.

John Burcaw, director of academia education for the Finishing Trades Institute Upper Midwest, thanked the state legislature for its $550,000 investment into launching the program.

“This public/private partnership shows how we can really invest in the next generation of workers,” he said, calling it the catalyst for starting the program. He said his school had invested $500,000.

He called the program a “new model of higher education” for the state.

Burcaw said the union apprenticeship program is critical for training a new generation of workers in Montana as plans are to fix infrastructure and for the state to grow. He said there are six apprenticeship programs.

Minnesota-based Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest says on its website that it is an “educational institute dedicated to developing professional tradespeople, advancing their skills, and certifying their qualifications in the Upper Midwest.”

Its programs include commercial painter decorator, coating application specialist, drywall finisher, glazier, glassworker and sign technician.

Burcaw said they are an accredited institution and that programs will feature 20-25 students at time and try to keep it an 8-1 student/teacher ratio. He said capacity is unlimited. He said in Minnesota they have 450 apprentices.

Training is 6,000 hours, which takes about three years, and there are 460 hours of classroom instruction. At the end of the program, students get a certificate and associate’s degree college credit. There is no cost for the apprenticeship. He said in Minnesota they charge $400 for classroom instruction.

Burcaw said the average starting salary is $20 per hour.

He said later the school plans to build a 20,000-square-foot building on two acres it will lease from the airport to be used for hands-on training. He estimated the cost of the project to be $1 million.

Charlie Meadows, business manager of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, said his organization also donated $500,000.

“We are excited to bring these opportunities here to build a brighter future and create a pathway to a better life for hundreds of working men and women,” he said.

In total, the union groups have donated $1.5 million.

gov. Greg Gianforte thanked GOP Reps. Llew Jones of Conrad and David Bedey of Hamilton for getting the funding into House Bill 2.

gov. Greg Gianforte operates a paint sprayer simulator on Tuesday at Helena College during an event announcing a new program focused on finishing trades.

THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

He said many good-paying jobs require specialized training, and investing in these jobs allow people to earn a great living and help build homes to help the state deal with a housing shortage and create opportunities in Montana.

Gianforte said trades education is important to the future of Montana.

The governor then participated in a simulation with a virtual reality headset in which he operated a boom lift and did another exercise in which he painted a bridge. Large TV screens showed the governor’s progress.

In terms of running a boom lift, it showed that he had made several errors.

“Did I kill anyone?” he asked.

The instructor told him no.

He then painted a bridge, holding a gadget that looked something like a virtual paint sprayer. While he was no Rembrandt, he had better success than being a boom lift operator. The screen showed him what areas had too much paint and too little and what areas were just right.

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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