Carpenters Teach Tools of the Trade

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Columbiana’s Justin Coie, a fourth-year apprentice at the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center, was working for his father in a hardware store when he was 29 years old.

He worked with a retired carpenter who explained to Coie what the job entailed.

“It sparked an interest, and I dove into it from there,” he says.

The training center, which has more than 58,000 square feet of indoor training and 28,000 outdoors, is one of four in Ohio – the others are in Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati – which collectively serve over 2,400 apprentices. About 1,100 are enrolled in Richfield with about 100 per day at the site, which is affiliated with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Apprentices come to school one week at a time four times every 12 months during their four-year learning sessions. The rest of the time, they’re working for their contractors, receiving job-specific training.

The training classes are no different than a 40-hour work week. In addition, apprentices need 5,200 work hours out in the field.

Each apprentice gets to know what they like doing, what they’re good at doing, and how they can improve, says Dan Sustin, area training coordinator.

This Richfield center encompasses workers from about 30 counties, ranging from Ashtabula to Steubenville, a couple counties into West Virginia, and from Sandusky to Mansfield.

A joint committee made up of union members and signatory contractors oversees the apprenticeship program, which features residential and commercial carpentry, floor covering and millwright, pile driving and cabinet making. A millwright is a tradesperson who installs, maintains and repairs stationary industrial machinery and mechanical equipment.

All training and textbooks are free to apprentices; they cost $2,500 per student per year.

There are 10 full-time and several part-time instructors, along with two administrative assistants at Richfield.

Dan Sustin is the training coordinator at the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center.

A computer and technology center offers digital blueprint reading and training to apprentices and journeymen. More than 200,000 hours of apprenticeship training is completed each year.

Teaching mathematics is not done out of a textbook, as that method doesn’t keep the attention of these students. Sustin says 80% is hands-on-learning, while the other 20% is in the classroom.

“Half of them are looking out the window as soon as you hand out a worksheet,” he says.

Measuring chalk lines, laying out right triangles and doing the Pythagorean theorem makes sense in applied action.

“It wasn’t necessarily my favorite subject in school,” Coie says. “When I got out here into this trade, I really started to be able to see it.”

More than 800 journeymen and foremen also receive skill advancement and upgrade training, along with over 70 different skill advancement classes for journeymen offered throughout the year.

Around Ohio, there are more than 2,400 members in Infection Control Risk Assessment training, which is awareness training for hospitals.

Apprentices can earn an associate of applied science degree in industrial technology from Cuyahoga Community College at no additional cost.

More than 100 apprentices graduate per year from the Richfield Campus with over 3,900 professional carpenters placed in the field during the last two decades.

Tony DiTommaso, Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters senior representative, says first-year apprentices start at 60% of a journeyman’s scale wage. In the Youngstown market, that is $16.45 an hour. After their second year, there are pay increases after every two classes. Pay finally tops out at $27 an hour, plus $21 an hour in benefits.

Sustin says applications are taken year round for those 17 years or older. Once they fill out an application, apprentices are given a list of contractors in their area where there are upcoming projects. From there, they have to network with those employers and the school points them in the right direction.

Those with prior experience in some of the trades are welcome, along with those transitioning out of the military.

“We’ve had apprentices in their late 40s and early 50s starting out and they do just great,” he says.

There is a strong push to get women and minorities in these trades – something more contractors are seeking, DiTommaso says.

“We’re more than willing to meet those demands,” he says.

Sustin says there are 126 schools in Ohio using a high school-based curriculum developed by his organization to prepare students.

Meanwhile, the Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo is Sept. 22-23 at the Canfield Fairgrounds. Nearly 4,000 middle- and high-school students are expected to attend.

“Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades is going to be an awesome situation  to introduce all of the building trades, crafts to the people of the Valley,” DiTommaso says.

There’s an opportunity for growth in the skilled trades, professionally and personally as well. “When you get an education from one of the skilled trades, you learn how to do basic life skills for yourself,” DiTommaso says.

Pictured: Carpenters apprentices take a basic hand tools class at the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center.