Students Get Virtual Tour of Plumbers & Pipefitters Apprenticeships

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Being selected for the apprenticeship program through Local 396 Plumbers & Pipefitters is similar to going to college with one major exception: students pay for higher education while apprentices get paid, says Rick Boyarko, the program’s training director.

Competition is tough, but if accepted into the tuition-free, five-year program, Boyarko said apprentices work full time with contractors mainly on commercial and industrial jobs, attend classes two nights a week with a starting hourly rate of $12.90 plus health care. The pay scale increases each year, with fifth-year apprentices earning $29 an hour. 

Boyarko spoke to students Wednesday via video conference as part of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center’s Virtual Exploration Tour 2020. The weeklong virtual tour features guest speakers talking to students in grades seven through 12 from multiple school districts about various career opportunities via video calls. 

The apprenticeship program typically takes about 15 new apprentices annually from 50 to 150 applicants. Boyarko says while there is a lot of competition, recent high school graduates have been accepted. 

“The number of apprenticeships depends on the work picture. This year obviously is looking pretty crazy because we don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Right now we have a lot of guys that aren’t working because a lot of things are shutdown.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered a majority of business, about half of the 60 current apprentices are not working, but Boyarko said some are starting to come back. Bringing on new apprentices this year was put on hold at this time.

Applications can be found on Local 396’s website from September through April at which time interviews begin and tests are administered. 

“When I was in high school, and right out of high school, I didn’t have much of an idea about what I wanted to do,” he said. “Pretty much everybody told me I had to go to college. I never considered being a plumber as a career or anything in the skilled trades. 

Boyarko found his way into the plumbing and pipefitter trade after several years of career exploration, years of college and a move to Alaska, where he earned a baccalaureate in education.

“I moved back to Ohio and couldn’t find a job. I needed a job and got into apprenticeship for plumbers and pipefitters at age 30. The rest is history,” he said. “One common misconception is that all we [plumbers & pipefitters] do is unclog toilets. I will tell you, personally, that I have never done that job. I’ve done it at my house. But that’s not something we do regularly or at all.”

Local 396 members install piping systems and repair piping systems, usually on commercial or industrial projects like schools up to a nuclear power plant, Boyarko told students.

The training facility has three labs, including a computer lab and six classrooms used for five different apprenticeships programs, such as stick welding and heating and ventilation, or HVAC.

Giving students examples of some of the large industrial projects Local 396 members, including apprentices, was a natural gas power plant in Lordstown. 

“That was almost a three year-long project. We dispatched about 900 different pipefitters to do that job, sometimes working seven days a week and working a lot of hours to complete that job, probably 2 million man hours to complete. Most were making about $35 an hour,” he said. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.