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Pittsburgh Union Helps Workers Adjust To New Currents In An Old Profession

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
A student works at Steamfitters Local 449's training center in Harmony, PA.

Since the late 1800s, steamfitters have built, installed and maintained piping systems, everywhere from power plants to residential homes.

Now, the job is changing to meet the technological demands of construction work in the 21st century.

Steamfitters have always worked with their hands, and they still do. But there’s another piece of the puzzle now, said Ken Broadbent, business manager of Steamfitters Local 449.

"You need people that can work in a ditch and get muddy, but also have some computer savvy and know software," he said.

Last year, the union opened a training center in Butler Country, which hosts an apprenticeship program, as well as continuing education opportunities for working steamfitters.

At the center, steamfitters are still learning traditional skills, like welding, but they're also learning to work with a wide range of software, said Broadbent.

"Many times you'll have steamfitters using software on laptops to check pressures and temperatures, or to program a system to stop or start at certain times in order to save energy," said Broadbent.

As buildings become increasingly high-tech and computerized, every component of them, like the pipes that carry gases and liquids, will have to become high tech too; and the union wants Pittsburgh's steamfitters to be prepared.