A Special Interview with Ken Schneider of United Association

At DADO, we’re interested in learning from leaders across the construction industry.  In this post, we interviewed Ken Schneider who is presenting at this year's 2021 MEP Innovation Conference. We ask him to share his thoughts on this year's training priorities and gain a sneak peak into what he will be presenting at this year's conference.

Don't skip a beat! Please read our "can't miss" interview with Ken Schneider!

Can you tell us a bit about your current role and how long you’ve been with the United Association? 

I’m a Training Specialist for the United Association (UA) and in this role I oversee our train-the-trainer program for BIM/VDC, and Fire Protection. My 6 year anniversary in this role is actually coming up next month. Before given this opportunity, I was the Training Director at my home local, Sprinklerfitters UA Local 268. I was in that role for 10 years and was planning on retiring in that role, but this opportunity with the UA Training Department came up and I jumped onboard. I’m doing some of the same things now that I did when I was Training Director, such as expanding training. Really the main thing that has changed is the BIM/VDC portion and of course the larger role within the UA!

What are some of the UA’s biggest training priorities for this year? 

We’re trying to do as much in-person training as we can. With the ITP (Instructor Training Program) being virtual this year, we’ve felt it important to keep regional training in person. Networking is so important when it comes to instructor training programs. We’ve done a VDC tour for the last 4 years, last year’s tour was cut short so we’re picking up where we left off. Right now we have five of VDC Tour stops focussed on Revit training set up in five districts within the UA and each of these sessions includes a construction technology meeting. This will be the start of a UA Construction Tech Committee. The Committee will have a lead for each UA craft from each UA District, with the goal of creating a larger network and work collectively with our industry partners to ensure that our members “earn on what they learn on”. It’s really easy to get caught up in all the new technology, but we are better when we share knowledge collectively as a team and work together to find the best solution. In this Committee, we collaborate with trade association partners like MCAA and work with vendors to take a deeper dive into their products. 

To highlight one example of a vendor partnership, we’ve had some overviews with DADO before, but there was a lot of excitement and cool discussion among the trainers around the presentation we did last week in our Advanced Plan Reading class. It’s great to have a DADO Project to use and be able to see the value. We get hands-on experience with different tools, but being able to find our docs easily is a huge priority. The pandemic has changed so much- especially the way we deliver training. What we can do with tech is mindblowing, but we need to have it in our hands and make sure our contractors are using it. 

As we’ve ramped up our training, it’s good to be great, but it’s great to be lucky. We were extremely lucky to have had a training event right before the lockdowns started. In early March of last year, we had an Instructor Bootcamp as part of our ITP. It helped us standardize and push technology into every single course. If we’re going to promote tech, we can start at home and clean up the classes we’ve been delivering using old school methods.So when the pandemic hit, we were able to flip the switch. Again, our timing there was perfect as we were able to flip our courses to Blackboard and deliver that content to the locals, and then locals were able to deliver it to their membership.

You’re presenting this week at the MEP Innovation Conference- can you tell us about the topic you’re presenting on? Who else is on your presentation team?

I’m presenting with Erik Lambrecht from UA Local 400 and Stephan Schnell from UA Local 467 and we’ll be speaking about the class we presented in our Regional training last week- Advanced Plan Reading. This class is really the place we’ve been able to incorporate so much of the tech we’ve been teaching. We’ll provide an overview of the educational project we used, which was a scan to BIM project by Erik Lambrecht. We’ve seen other possibilities for this project, too, like how we could flip this into safety training, rigging and foreman training, etc. We’re creating the roadmap for how other locals can take a scan to BIM project, get their building modeled, and use it in their training. So many possibilities when you use technology to your advantage.

Now that 3 associations, NECA, SMACNA and MCAA are co-presenting this event (formerly the MCAA Tech Conference), what’s something you’re looking forward to about this cross-disciplinary event? 

The interesting piece to this is the fact that we all need to collaborate on the jobsite, so to be able to collaborate in the conference is a good thing. There’s a lot of good MEP conferences out there where we have that opportunity, but it’s great that the MCAA had the foresight here to invite the other two trade associations. 

This is a great opportunity for these three associations to work together and discuss the possibilities of creating a better building for the owners. Sometimes the big push is to create a cheaper building, ultimately the construction cost of buildings are only about 20% of the cost of the building life cycle. Together, I believe we can educate the owners to spend a little more money up front to save a lot of money over the building's life cycle. We also need to look at the maintenance of equipment, understanding this during the design process is critical to ensure it is accessible for the people who need to perform maintenance on it. There’s a lot of opportunity for the M, the E and the P to collaborate and educate the owner on these matters.