August 15, 2010
Training programs, apprenticeships help workers transition to trades
Special to NWjobs
The construction industry has been hit hard by the recession, but that hasn’t discouraged people like Rusty Knorr from seeking retraining in the building trades. After the 45-year-old former bicycle mechanic was laid off from his job at REI last year, he enrolled in Seattle Central Community College’s Cabinetmaking and Fine Woodworking program.
Instructor John Harvey says the popular program has drawn students who are transitioning from a variety of fields. “I have a fair amount of people from technology and restaurants — those areas where, at the end of the day, they want something more satisfying, where they can see the results of their work,” he says.
“People are keeping their homes because they can’t afford to sell them, so they’re upgrading them,” says Knorr. “I’ll be out in December looking for job prospects, which I feel are pretty good. My training will put me on top of the work force.”
What can workers in the trades expect to earn at the journeyman level? Here are some per-hour wages in King County, according to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
Cement mason: $49
Residential carpenter: $23
Carpentry is among the consistently hot jobs in the trades industry, says Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) spokeswoman Selena Davis, as are electricians and laborers (jack-of-all-trades workers who do prep, cleanup and other support for a variety of crafts).
Many trade jobs have a bright future — one that’s tinted green. In its latest Green Economy Jobs survey, published in March, the Washington State Employment Security Department reported that most of the top 10 occupations in the green sector are either directly or indirectly related to construction.
“The green jobs are really where a lot of the promise will be,” says Heather Winfrey, program manager for ANEW, a nonprofit agency that helps women and minorities get apprenticeships in the construction trades. “There’s a lot of funding and energy at the state level that will have impact on the green trades and apprenticeships.”
Other growth will emerge from government requirements. The state of Washington requires that 15 percent of all workers on public-works projects — including schools, hospitals and roads — be apprentices. This assures that the industry’s aging work force can be replaced.
With major local projects planned — including Sound Transit’s light-rail expansion and the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — project managers and city officials are anticipating a greater need for trade workers.
Apprenticeships, which L&I calls “the original four-year degree,” are the traditional route to such jobs. They typically take the same amount of time as a standard college education, but apprentices get most of their training on the job instead of in the classroom — and they get paid while they’re doing it.
Formal education plays a part, too. South Seattle Community College’s Apprenticeship and Education Center in Georgetown partners with local industry and government to offer apprenticeships in 20 trades, including cement masonry, electrical work and ironwork.
Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council, says that local unions — whose apprenticeship programs outnumber nonunion programs about 10-to-1 — are a great avenue to the trade industry as well.
“The unions throughout the I-5 corridor spend approximately $20 million annually on apprenticeship programs,” he says, “so it’s a considerable investment.”
Because the economy and construction are still slow, program managers aren’t able to assign apprentices to projects as quickly as they’d like. But that shouldn’t stop people who are considering a trade career from applying and getting a start on prerequisites, says Alice Lockridge, who is recruiting apprentice candidates for Seattle City Light.
“(Demand) might not be here today, but it might be here in six months, and it will take you six months to get it together anyway,” she says. “So why not get ahead of the pack?”
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