Jason Fincke, Executive Director
Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, Inc.
Opportunities for a rewarding, successful career for high school graduates who have chosen to not continue their education in college may be hard to find, but they do exist if one knows where to look and if they have the desire to learn and the work ethic to succeed.
One such opportunity is in the construction and building trades industry. Unlike many professions, construction does not require a college degree, but it does require more education. For most high school graduates that can mean either enrolling in a trade school, where cost can be a significant factor, or applying and being accepted into a Joint Apprenticeship school.
In the Pittsburgh area, there are 17 such institutions and they are operated and paid for by local building trade unions and their affiliated contractors. No where in the country will someone who is interested in construction find better, more up-to-date training centers and curricula than right here in their own back yard.
Many local residents probably drive by some of them everyday and are not aware of what they offer. Some, like the new training center of the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters easily seen from Interstate 376 in Collier Township or the Career and Technology Center of Steamfitters Local Union #449 along Route 51 near the Fort Pitt Tunnels, are highly visible. Others, like Plumbers Local Union #27's Training Center in North Fayette Township or the 60 acre training center of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local Union #66 in New Alexandria, are a little more hidden. These and other training centers, including those operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #5 on Pittsburgh's South Side, Ironworkers Local Union #3 in the Strip District or the Laborers' District Council of Western Pennsylvania in Saxonburg, are all equally impressive and all are tuition free.
In fact, they are not only free, but the students (apprentices) earn livable wages during their three-to-five year training period, as most of their education is gained on the job working alongside experienced craftsmen (journeymen). It's an opportunity that is available every year to men and women who are not afraid to be challenged physically and mentally, and who meet the necessary criteria.
This year, the area's 17 Joint Apprenticeship schools will take in more than 600 apprentices and the opportunity in future years could be extremely bright if this region is successful in attracting such projects as a new petrochemical plant, where construction job estimates are as high as 10,000 workers. Those workers will undoubtedly include representatives of virtually every trade, including steamfitters, ironworkers, carpenters, boilermakers, electricians and others.
Unlike for-profit colleges and trade schools, the Joint Apprenticeship schools of the union building trades only take is as many students as they can put to work. As such, not everyone who applies is accepted. To be eligible, applicants must be at least 18 years of age (17 in a few exceptions), have a high school diploma or GED, have a valid Pennsylvania Driver's License, have immediately available transportation (preferably a car) and be drug free. Applicants must also generally possess strong math skills, primarily in algebra and geometry, as most applicants will be required to take an aptitude test. The higher one scores on the test, the better their chance of being accepted.
Once in the training program, students will be placed with local contractors and their careers are off and running, as they will have family sustaining wages and benefits. The success of these training centers, however, is directly tied to the commitment developers, owners and other decision makers choose to make to professional union affiliated contractors.
All too often, contracts are awarded on the lowest bid and not the best value. In such cases, it is much easier for a contractor who utilizes a lesser skilled, lower paid workforce to be awarded the job. The end result can often be substantial change orders and ultimately higher construction costs. That's why it is important that an owner or developer consider how a contractor's workforce is selected and trained.
The area's Joint Apprenticeship schools offer great opportunities every year. Because they are overwhelmingly privately funded, they are a great educational, but all-too-often unrecognized resource for this region and for the state. Men and women who are looking for rewarding careers without having to pay for post secondary education need to consider a career a construction.
Unlike many professions, it is an industry that can not be outsourced. Work may get delayed during tough economic times, but sooner or later, new facilities are going to be built or old facilities renovated. Either way, opportunities for high school graduates and others interested in a career in construction will be there.
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The BUILDERS GUILD OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA is a non-profit labor management initiative of building trades unions, contractor associations and industry professionals working together as the premier provider of construction services in the region.
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