Apprenticeships Key to Construction Workforce

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training and classroom instruction to prepare workers for high-skill occupations.

People pursuing jobs in trades such as electrician, plumber, pipefitter 
and carpenter can make 50% of journeyman’s wages to start and increase their pay over the next three to six years.

The Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania offers 16 apprenticeship programs. The organization’s goal is to place 20 apprentices in each building trades occupation. But it is falling short by 10% to 40%, depending on the trade, says Gary Hartman, the association’s services director.

“That translates to something I’ve been saying for the past couple of years,” he says. “We know that by 2023, across the board nationwide, we’ll probably have a person short for each job. We’re trying to educate and bring people into the trades for good paying jobs.”

Hartman says most apprentices earn a starting wage of over $16 an hour. The average pay once they complete the program is $28.50-$49.70 with benefits factored in.

The Builders Association represents more than 150 of the most reputable and successful firms in the construction industry from Trumbull, Columbiana and Mahoning counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania. All are  union contractors that realize knowledge, extensive training and access to more resources means higher productivity, which ultimately benefits the bottom line.

There’s a great need for apprentices in this area because of the amount of work available in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, says Kevin Reilly, executive vice president of The Builders

“We want to be able to fulfill all that work and provide good jobs for Mahoning and Shenango Valley residents,” he says. “So we can definitely use more people in the apprenticeship programs.”

The Builders Association is involved in different schools, working with business advisory councils. Hartman says the representatives of the organization give students plenty of talks on career exploration, sit on business advisory councils and conduct mock interviews.

A partnership between The Builders and the Mahoning County Educational Service Center enables students in 13 school districts to take part in a pre-apprenticeship program. Students learn construction mathematics and other skills that give them an advantage heading into an apprenticeship program after high school.

“We believe the earlier contact with something like this, the better,” Hartman says. “It’s part of our long-term plan to fill some of those gaps and shortages that we expect to have with any skilled trades programs in the next five years.”

The second Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo is Sept. 22-23 at the Canfield Fairgrounds. The first expo was in 2019, but last year the event was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first day will be open to the public, and representatives from the trades will recruit and hire people into apprenticeship programs. About 4,000 high school and middle school students from the five-county region are scheduled to attend.

“The goal of the expo is to have a hands-on event for the kids so they’re not just going to another college fair where people have literature and 
pamphlets out on the table,” Hartman says. “It’s giving them a chance to actually either observe the trades firsthand or participate in different skill sets.”

Hartman says female involvement in apprenticeship programs is around 7%, and minority participation is 22%.

“There’s always a push to get more females and minorities in the program,” Reilly says. “All school systems in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys have been invited to attend.”

With most apprenticeships, there is little to no cost. Apprentices will not incur debt like they would if they pursued a college education. At most, they have to pay for books.

“There’s essentially no cost to attend the training and you get paid while you learn,” Reilly says. “They’re training in class and also learning on the job. It provides just a different opportunity. You learn a skill that nobody can take away.”

Pictured: Gary Hartman and Kevin Reilly say The Builders work with skilled trade unions to provide 16 apprenticeship programs.