WARREN – What has changed about the sheet metal industry since 1985, the year Steve Murzen took over as Local 80’s Training Director?
Well, what hasn’t changed is that duct work is still a common way to distribute heating and cooling throughout a building. Other than that – plenty. Computer-aided design has replaced the pencil to help tinknockers produce highly detailed blueprints and duct runs. The work is less labor intensive. Digital circuit boards have replaced analog; electronic controls have replaced pneumatic. And today’s apprentices are, Murzen said, “a whole different breed of cat than they were 27 years ago.”
Murzen, 62, won’t have to keep up with the changes in the industry any longer – he decided to call it a career, with his last day on the job June 29.
“I think throughout the time I’ve been here, I’ve been able to explain things; to bring it down to an elemental level that people can understand,” Murzen said. “The industry has changed tremendously since I’ve been here. But I think we’ve been able to keep our apprentices and journeymen with the most up-to-date training over the years.”
Murzen has worked alongside six business managers at Local 80, and estimates that “a couple thousand” apprentices have walked through the doors at the Apprenticeship School on Dequindre Road – with about 40 on the rolls today. Like the tools, materials and controls have changed in the industry, so too, Murzen said, have the apprentices.
“I think many apprentices today come in with an attitude, that they’re owed something,” Murzen said. “I’ve tried to get across to them that no one owes them anything. We train them the best we can, but I have always impressed on them that they have a tremendous potential for opportunity and a good quality of life from this industry if they apply themselves.”
Murzen started his career at Local 80 in 1974 following a six-year stint in the Navy. He worked in the field as a sheet metal worker for 10 years. He also pursued a teaching degree, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in vocational education from the University of Michigan-Flint. Murzen became an instructor at Local 80’s school in April 1984, and then became director of the facility 11 months later with the retirement of then-director, Al Thiel.
“I guess looking back I’m proud of the fact that I was able to positively influence young people in their career as a sheet metal worker, and provide the industry with well-trained workers,” Murzen said.
While the changes in industry hardware and technology over the years have been gradual, one major change at Local 80 has come quickly and recently. The week of his retirement, Murzen told attendees at Local 80’s membership meeting that he’s happy that more money was finally allocated to the school, and that leadership at Local 80 was committed to making it happen.
“I’m proud to say that we got done what Steve has wanted to get done for a lot of years,” said Local 80 Business Manager Mark Saba. “This year we got a 50 percent increase (a total of 35 cents per hour from both union members and contractors) approved in our contribution level to improve our training. That puts us at parity with most of the other JATCs around the country. That’s really going to help our program with staffing and to improve the training.”
Murzen is leaving his director post just as the improvements will be implemented under new Training Director Richard Flood. He said the greater resources will be a long-term boon to the school.
“It was a major change in the attitude of the membership toward the apprenticeship program,” Murzen said. “In the past, contractors and the membership didn’t want to financially support the school. Now, we’re in a much better position and we can look to the future in a positive way.”
Murzen made clear that while he’s leaving his position as director, he still intends to teach a class or two, volunteer at union picnics and on Labor Day. He will stay in the area with his wife Sandy.
“I’m glad he’s staying around,” Saba said. “Steve has brought a sense of pride, interest and enthusiasm to his teaching, and he exemplifies what unions are all about. He has helped me greatly in my own work, he’s No. 1 in my book.”