It will be easier for HVAC construction apprentices in Ohio to earn associates degrees while completing their training, the Sheet Metal Workers union announced.

Under an agreement with the state’s board of regents, sheet metal works apprentices at one of the state’s seven union-funded training centers will be able to earn college-level math and science credits that would have previously had to happen on a college campus. It boosts from 40 percent to 60 percent the amount of work toward an associate degree that can be completed through the union.

The agreement is the first of its kind in the country, union officials said.

“This agreement proves what we as an industry have been saying all along,” said James Page, administrator for the International Training Institute, the union’s education division. “Apprenticeships are another side of higher education. If our Ohio apprentices choose to pursue their associate’s degree, they’ll already all but have it when they complete their apprenticeship.”

The Buckeye State is home to the third-largest sheet metal apprentice program in the U.S., officials said, which means a lot of students should be able to take advantage of the new rule.

“To me, the critical part is it puts all the sheet metal apprentices in Ohio in the same pool, so no matter where in the state that apprentice lives, or the college he picks, we set a common bar that everyone is going to hit,” said John Nesta, training coordinator at Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 in Cleveland. “It’s just another example of the quality of the training, the quality of the programs. It’s more validation from the outside about the higher levels of training we provide.”

It will also save students a lot of time. Rob Gartner, training director for Sheet Metal Workers Local 24 in Columbus, said the agreement can improve the work-life balance, especially among older students.

“It should be the difference between taking 10 more classes to earn the degree to two or three classes,” said Rob Gartner, training director for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24 in Columbus. “These guys work 40 or more hours per week, attend classes three nights a week and they have families. The fewer classes they have to take when they leave the apprenticeship, the better.”