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'Earn and learn': Skilled trades in need of workers during pandemic

Posted at 10:34 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 11:07:58-04

MILWAUKEE — With tens of thousands of people unemployed, skilled trade advocates encourage people to consider a career change.

"If you choose to jump into the construction industry and become an apprentice, you actually get to earn and learn at the exact same time," Rebecca Kleefisch, Jobs Ambassador for the Association of Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin said.

Kleefisch says in the construction industry, apprentices will start getting paid immediately and, within three years, craft construction laborers in the Milwaukee area can make $25.74 per hour.

"These are experiences you can have if you begin building equity in your own life and you start by making money," Kleefisch said. "As opposed to acquiring debt. The construction industry is there for folks who want to jump in. There is nothing intimidating. This is an exciting way to build your state."

There are a wide variety of well-paying jobs. ABC Wisconsin lists average pay for a variety of construction jobs on its website.

"There is everything from concrete workers, construction workers, to roofers," Brandon Engen, Dave Jones, Inc. said. "Our particular business, we have electricians, fire protection, sprinkler fitters, plumbers and HVAC staff as well doing heating, cooling and ventilation."

Engen has been in the industry for 27 years. He originally wanted to get into wildlife resources but felt this was a better avenue for him.

"I couldn't be happier," Engen said. "I love the industry and I love my job. I've been able to work my way from labor to apprentice, through the ranks of journeyman, master plumber and some other certifications. It's a very good profession for me personally."

The apprenticeships take anywhere from one to five years to complete. After they're done, Engen says journeyman can make anywhere from $30 to $45 per hour. An apprentice makes a certain percentage of that, going up incrementally until they finish.

"It's not an easy profession," Engen said. "A lot of hardworking, blood, sweat and tears that go into it. But once through the program, it can be rewarding personally and financially."

"The fact they deem you fit to invest in with an apprenticeship also means that they value you as an employee," David Polk, Director of Apprenticeship at MATC said. "During the apprenticeship, you're ready in that field and you're already with that employer."

Polk also works as a plumber. He says doing an apprenticeship is a win-win.

"It offers an employer someone in a seat immediately," Polk said. "Now, you may have to train that individual and get them up to par. That's part of the investment of apprenticeship but you don't have that help wanted sign out there very long when you offer an apprenticeship."

While a career change can be intimidating, Kleefisch says those who get into skilled trades are a variety of ages.

"Our average apprentice is actually older than what you might expect," Kleefisch said. "We have a lot of folks who are just beginning their careers in construction trades in their mid 20's, mid 30's, some even making a mid-life transition. They realize what they had been doing wasn't for them."

The Department of Workforce Development has a listing of all of the apprenticeship committees in the state.

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