In what may be an industry first, industrial owners and contractors in Southern California are close to signing an agreement to share the cost of training craft workers.

The work force development program comes from the Industrial Owners Council of the Western Council of Construction Consumers, Torrance, Calif. The plan was presented on March 4 at the council's annual meeting in Irvine, Calif. Richard A. Igercich, mechanical manager of ExxonMobil's Torrance refinery and chairman of the IOC, said area owners know it's not easy to staff up for major turnaround projects. "Several years ago, we began an initiative to improve training and certification," he said.

They were aware of a successful program for open shop contractors sponsored by the Greater Baton Rouge Industrial Managers Association that trains craftworkers on a regional basis. "We got refinery and utility owners together and came to the conclusion that there was a lot of interest in this," Igercich said.

Owners then reached out to "engage contractors," said Paul Conrad, president of Paramount, Calif.-based GC Total-Western Inc. "We agreed that the effort to train and certify the work force should be a joint venture between owners and contractors." The group is working with the Southern California chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors to administer the program.

Andrew C. Wiktorowicz, executive director of the Western Council, said the jointly financed training model will be a variation on the Gulf Coast program. There, owners pay all training costs and require contractors to use workers who have certified skills. The plan in California is for owners to pay the fixed administrative costs while contractors pay for direct training costs–teachers and training materials.

Final details of the agreement are still being worked out, but the plan does not call for a cents-per-hour contribution. Instead, it looks at the number of worker hours each participating owner uses and divides fixed costs among them in proportion to their share of the total hours being worked. Contractors will pay the variable costs of the workers they enroll. In a first phase, contractors will do worker assessments to allow them to prioritize training modules that are needed.

A key ingredient has been the development of nationally accepted curricula by Gainsville, Fla.-based National Center for Construction Education and Research. "This formula for funding has a good chance for success," said Don Whyte, vice president of training operations for the center. "We haven't seen it anywhere else in the country."

The program could be used as a model for other organizations. Wiktorowicz said he has already had conversations with a northern California group and is "definitely willing to share information and help other groups get started."