The Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons International Association (OPCMIA) is one of the few trades groups that uses virtual reality equipment as a training tool for young apprentices.
But the association has found the VR tool can be as entertaining as it can be educational.
OPCMIA’s Local 598 based in North York proved that point when it brought its VR equipment to its exhibit booth at the Buildings Show in Toronto recently where visitors were quick to don VR headgear and try their hand at plastering.
“We set up a simulation of taping a wall and putting a level 5 plaster coat over the drywall for visitors to try out at our booth,” says Jason Langley, president of Local 598, adding visitors had a lot of fun with it.
The international association invested in VR equipment about four years ago and uses it in most of its training centres in Canada and the U.S. Bringing it to the Buildings Show, which drew an estimated 30,000 visitors, was a no-brainer.
“The exposure for our local union through the trade show is great. Trade shows like this bring in parents who might see this as a trade their kids would look into,” says Tony Mollica, business manager of Local 598.
The VR equipment is a training aid for a number of wall and ceiling and concrete applications and it also serves as a recruitment tool in high schools.
“When you go into the schools looking at recruiting the next generation of the workforce, you could talk all day about the trade but the kids still won’t really know what you do. VR gives them an idea of what goes on in our trade,” adds Joe Ciacchi, international representative of OPCMIA.
Mollica says there is a “big shortage” of cement masons and plasterers in the Greater Toronto Area so recruitment efforts are an important part of the association’s mandate.
He says the concrete and masonry restoration sector represents a big chunk of the work at Local 598, adding that for every one worker hired by contractors, another four or five are needed.
“That’s how bad the shortage is. It’s a very physical job so you have to want to do it, but it pays really well.”
Apprenticeship streams are a four-year masonry restoration program or a three-year cement mason program leading to journeyperson certification.
OPCMIA was established in 1864 to represent and train plasterers and cement masons and the Toronto chapter was established in 1917.