Welcome to another Trail 9 Asks post! This week, we have an interview with Sean Hayden, Assistant Director of the Institute for Career Development (ICD). Trail 9 knows Sean and the ICD from redesigning their website, icdlearning.org.
We're excited for our readers to get to know the ICD and learn about the awesome benefits for learning they offer United Steelworkers across the nation. As Sean says later in the interview, only a fraction of Steelworkers know that the ICD is out there, ready to help. We hope we can spread the word along with them! Now, on to the interview...
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the ICD.
I'm originally from Massachusetts. I was born and raised there, went to school there, and I moved out to Indiana in 1994 for a job— I worked at the Times newspaper for about 10 years. And in 2004, for me personally, it was time for a change, to get out of that field. And, incidentally, I was reading the Times Sunday paper in the Classified ads and saw a help wanted ad for this job. It was asking for someone with a Communications background, so I applied and eventually got hired on with the ICD. So, I've been here since Spring of '04.
And now you're the Assistant Director? What do you do?
Yes, I am. Well, a lot of what I do revolves around how our office operates. A lot of financial work and all sorts of stuff about what it takes to run this office— that's a lot of my responsibility. There's a lot of interaction with the companies that we work with— they’ll come to me because they have to report certain things to us, and I oversee stuff like that. So, I'm more of an overseer of things.
Can you summarize what ICD does?
Sure. So, there's a difference between what we do in this office and what ICD is on a national level. First, ICD is the Institute for Career Development, and it's a negotiated benefit for members of the United Steelworkers that have it written into their contracts— their agreements with certain companies. Certain companies like US Steel, Goodyear, Bridgestone, BFGoodrich, and some others have negotiated with the Steelworkers to provide those benefits.
And what Career Development does is it sets aside funds for you, as the individual member, to access whenever you want— to take advantage of learning opportunities. This is all self-driven learning. So, if you're a welder in the steel mill and you need to learn a type of welding skill, then the company provides that through company training. But, if you're someone who's in the production side of the steel mill and you want a welding job, and you want to learn how to weld, then you can come to Career Development and learn those skills.
It's basically providing portable skills to members. They take and access this training on their own time at no cost to them. So, around the country, we have what we call Learning Centers— there are sixty Learning Centers, so sixty different locations. If you think of us like a bank, we’re the headquarters and then we have these branches. So, we have sixty Learning Centers across the country that conduct hands-on training on a daily basis, kind of like tiny little schools. Each one will have, at the least, a classroom, a shop area, a computer lab, and offices for the coordinators— because there are people there locally that run those programs, and those people report to us. So, we provide oversight, make sure that programs are following policy, and make sure that we provide technical assistance and best practice resources. We bring everybody together to share ideas. We're an extension of our executive board. The executive board creates all the policy, and our local programs create programming, and then we're kind of in the middle making sure that this programming and all the expenditures meet with what the governing board requires. So, we have six people here in our national office, and we travel quite a bit out to all of our different places. (Image right: Mon Valley Learning Center course catalog cover page. Click to enlarge.)
And the Learning Centers are all around the country, right?
Yeah, starting in Oregon, down to the San Francisco area, all the way up to Northern Minnesota right by Canada, all the way over to Massachusetts, and then all the way down to Alabama and Louisiana. So, the most of them are in Northwest Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, like the Pittsburg area— places that you would consider traditional rust belt communities.
That’s probably where most of the United Steelworkers are, then.
Yeah, there's more than a handful in this area. There are six or seven different Learning Centers here, and they serve thousands of Steelworkers because, you know, there are all sorts of steel mills around here.
And that's why we (headquarters) are located here. When we were founded— we were founded by the Steelworkers, the international office, which is located in Pittsburgh— but I think they wanted to give us that little bit of Independence, to be able to operate on our own. And also, there was such a cluster of steel mills here with a big population, so they knew that this would be a good place for us to have a presence. When you think of Northwest Indiana, there are a lot of steel mills, right? A lot of industry here. So, I think that's why they headquartered us here. (Image left: ICD Headquarters Staff)
It sounds really helpful, so you can visit a lot of places that are right here.
Right, yeah. We have a lot of strong programs here, we have good relationships with those programs, and we're able to take what they do— since we're so close to it— and kind of replicate it in other parts of the country. Because we can see what's going on here, it’s easier for us to kind of pick that up and take it down to— Alabama, for instance.
So for classes, is it the people in the Institute who decide what they want to teach and learn?
Yeah, so it's designed to be bottom up. In other words, whatever the individual worker on the floor wants to learn, this program is there to help them learn and achieve that, with some parameters. So, in order to have a class, you need to have at least five people. That's one of our rules: you need to have at least five active workers In a class. So, let’s say I want to learn how to wire a home system or something like that. First, I have to go to my coordinator and say, "Hey, how about this for a class?" And they'll say something like, "Oh, that's a great class. I'll advertise it and see if I get anybody." If they don't get anybody, now it's up to me to round up my coworkers and get that enthusiasm going. Some classes always fill up because some classes are always in demand, whether it's small engine repair, HVAC classes... a lot of kind of industrial-type classes are always filled up with people. So that's how it happens, the local program and the individual worker— they're the ones who come up with the ideas. And then it's up to our local coordinator to put out bids to try to find instructors for these classes. So, you’re always trying to get the most cost-effective rates. (Image right: ICD Auto Repair Class)
There are lots of things that go on with our classes that you don't see with traditional schools. For instance, just about all of the classes that we offer are offered on what we call a shadow basis, so that someone can go to class either before work or after work. So, let's say it's a Microsoft Excel class, and I'm in the class— it’s scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 in the morning and also 4:00 to 6:00 in the evening. I could go to either class, and the same core stuff is taught in each class that day, so it gives the Steelworkers more options. We want to make learning accessible and convenient. And so how do you do that? You offer the same thing multiple times a day. (Image left: ICD Cooking Class)
Some of our classes are shadowed three times a day. All different work places have different schedules, so it’s up to that local Center to figure out what works for each shift. Like for some classes, one week will be Tuesday/Thursday, and the next week will be Monday/Wednesday. Because your shift rotates and the times rotate, and that's up to our coordinator to make sure that they work with the instructor to make that happen.
And you guys have conferences and summits a couple of times a year, right?
Yeah, so what we do every other year is we have a National Conference which usually brings together each of our sites' key decision-makers, personnel, and members of the committee. So we’ll bring about 250 people together in one location for a two or three-day conference. And that's where we get to provide everyone with the type of training that we think is worthwhile. We hold 15 different workshops on topics that are pertinent to their day to day work of delivering this benefit to the members. A lot of it is just getting people together to see each other, and they’ll start conversations and share ideas. Just the networking, which leads to the best practices that they share. So that's kind of how of the program grows, is through the sharing of ideas. So, that’s every other year. (Image right: 2016 ICD National Convention)
And then on the years that it doesn't take place, we have Learning Summits. And that's what we're in now, in 2017. Those are a day and a half of training on one or two topics that we really try to drill down on. We usually get about 50 people. If you take both Summits, you get about 100 people total, from probably 40 to 50 sites. It's just our way of getting people together on a smaller scale and trying to share that best practice and just provide tactical training. Those aren't for the people who teach the classes, who we call Providers— Educational Providers. They're mostly for the coordinators, the people who are in charge of each of the Learning Centers, and committee members. We have committees at some places that are as big as eighteen members, and some have two members, so it just depends on how they cross function. But they're the people who decide what they're going to offer, how much they're going to spend, who they're going to hire, stuff like that. So we bring those people together.
What are your favorite parts of working here?
There are a couple things. First of all, I love the social activism— the helping someone get where they want to be. You know, whenever someone acquires new skills or learns something, they're becoming, in their terms, a better person. Or, they're becoming who they want to be, right? No one's forcing us to do this anymore; we're adults. This isn't High School. So, you think about an adult worker who probably has a family, a spouse and children, and they're taking time out of their own life to go learn something because they have a need. They obviously feel they have a need to learn. And for us to be able to help that person achieve that goal is very rewarding. (Image left: Conference Welcome Greeters)
The other thing is that there’s nothing negative about it. Everybody who's here wants to learn. Like I said, there are no bad attitudes in classrooms like there is when we all went through school. People are here because they want to be here, so they’re enthusiastic. And for me personally, being part of the Union is— we work for the Union, we’re not actually Union members ourselves— but being part of that cause for me is very important. Unions are one of the last things that are fighting for the middle class in this country, so that’s important to me.
And tuition is paid for, up to $1800?
Yeah, that’s right. So, you can take an ICD class— remember I said you have to have five people in it? Or, you can access that $1,800 and just go to, say, IUN or PNC on your own. You can do both, actually.
Does that tuition count for the ICD classes?
No, you have two separate pots of money. So we have what we call customized classes— those are taught onsite at the learning center. There's a minimum of five students, five Union members. And you get up to $2,000 a year to take customized classes. Then we have tuition assistance, where you have to go to an accredited college or university. You can go on your own, and you get $1,800 a year for that. So, those are the two pots of money that members can tap into.
And they can kind of mix and match then?
You can do both, yeah. You can take a couple customized classes, you can take a college class— so, it's really up to whatever that Steelworker wants. It's here to help them.
Years and years ago, in the 80s, steel was booming and everyone had a good job. Then there was a severe downturn in the industry, and hundreds of thousands of Steelworkers lost their jobs. And they really had no hope of finding other employment that was going to sustain their family like working in the mill did, because many of them went right into the mill out of high school and had no other marketable skills. You know, we often say you can run that crane in the steel mill, but your town doesn't need a crane operator. So now, you don't know what to do. After that happened, that's when the Steelworkers founded us, to provide people with the opportunities to obtain skills while they were still employed. That way, if a layoff hit, you'd be better able to find another job, hopefully with the same amount of money, to help your family out as you had before. So the people that take advantage of our program are in much better positions to their future potential.
Are there any challenges that you face typically?
No, there really are not a lot of challenges here. You know, one reason that we created a new website was to try to help in that area— it gives us a way of bringing our people together. It gives us a vehicle for sharing stories that we didn't have before. And so if I'm down in, say, Fayetteville, North Carolina, now I can go to the ICD website and see what's going on in Clairton, Pennsylvania. So for us, that website's been instrumental in helping us solve one of those challenges. It's always how to share ideas and bring our people together when they're so spread out. You know, we can't just bring them together twice a year or once a year physically. How do we connect them 365 days a year and with technology and social media? And having a website that's as useful for us as ours is, that's how we do it now. It allows us to get our message out to them, and it's not our message so much as sharing messages from other places— sharing stories of what's going on in one place, so that way everybody can see it. That's one of our challenges— connecting our people. And having this website, that was probably one of our main objectives in doing it. (Image right: ICD website (icdlearning.org))
From reviewing the website, there is so much great content on there!
Yeah, we worked Mike to death. He was awesome throughout the whole process. He did a lot of customization for us— a lot. We were pretty demanding because we have specific needs. It's a specific program, right? It's really not a cookie-cutter thing. And yeah, it was very collaborative, and we weren't easy to work with. We're not difficult people, but it's not like a typical project. Lots of times, we didn't know what we even wanted until we sat down with him and saw what we could have, and we would tweak things. But yeah so— thanks for saying that about the website, having a lot of good content, because that's what the goal is— to have great content on there.
And we have catalogs on there— course catalogs. So that way, our Burns Harbor, Indiana program will give us their catalog, and we'll load it on there. So now our site out in San Francisco can see what's being offered here, so they can steal that idea!
What is ICD's plan for the future?
We're always looking for what the next big thing in learning is and how we offer that to the members. There's always going to be a place for brick-and-mortar learning because if you want to learn, say, electrical wiring, you actually have to do it. But where is technology going to take us in the future, in terms of learning and learning opportunities? We just have to be open to that. That's kind of our thing; we're always trying to seek out new ways people learn, how they learn, and how we can cater to that. So that's it for us for now, is what's the next big thing— just continue to evolve and modernize and come up with new ideas for training. And what's out there for people— there's always going to be something new to learn. And then, how do we bring that into the career development world.
How can people get involved if they’re not?
People can go to their local union leaders, and when contract negotiation time comes around, it gets put on the proposal and it either gets into a contract or it doesn't. That’s also part of what we do— we go out and make presentations to certain groups to see how interested they are in getting us in their contract. We’re probably in less than 10% of all Steelworker contracts across the country, so not everybody knows about us. Just creating that awareness amongst the Steelworkers that don’t know about us is also part of our mission. Because obviously, the more contracts we’re in— we think it’s a great benefit, right? We’re always saying, besides wages and healthcare, the ability to go learn anything anytime you want is pretty attractive. So, part of what we do also is we try to spread the word of ICD throughout the Steelworkers nationwide who don’t have us. But, the first step is to always go to your local union leader.