Students drafted into trade apprenticeships

Connect Construction UP student Tyler Smith gets “drafted” into a building trades apprenticeship during a program Friday in Escanaba. He will apprentice with Carpenters Local 1501. Four students took part in the pilot program. (Escanaba Daily Press photo)

ESCANABA — A pilot program launched by several groups was the gateway for four students to enter the world of the skilled trades. The organizers of the program — Construct Connect UP — says they won’t be the last.

The program matches students with businesses where they get experience working in the skilled trades. The culmination of the pilot program came Friday when four students — three from Escanaba and one from Kingsford — took part in Draft Day where the students were “drafted” into building trades apprenticeships.

“Construct Connect UP gives qualified high school seniors an outstanding academic education while instilling in them an understanding of the world of work and the skills necessary for competing in the construction industry,” said U.P. Construction Council Executive Director Mike Smith.

The UPCC collaborated with its signatory contractors & U.P. building trades unions, U.P. Michigan Works, Delta-Schoolcraft ISD, Dickinson-Iron ISD and Marquette-Alger Regional Education Services Agency to develop a program that is skill-based, labor- and industry-approved and directly linked to real workplace situations. Students worked 2-3 hours in the mornings or afternoon and earned $13 an hour on job sites.

Construct Connect UP was operated as a pilot program for the second semester of this school year, with three students from Escanaba and one student from Kingsford.

The students involved the pilot project were honored during a Draft Day program Friday.

Smith said the program was a group effort with everyone working together.

One of those groups was U.P. Michigan Works. Debb Brunell, executive director of U.P. Michigan Works, said the groups involved had to do things differently since the pandemic.

“I am super excited about this event today,” she said.

Steve Claywell, president of Michigan Building Trades, said Construction Connect builds opportunities. Those opportunities will result in Michigan retaining more young people.

What you’re doing here is right,” he said. “There’s a difference beween a job and a career.”

Keynote speaker was Sean Egan, deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. He said Construction Connect UP is far ahead of skilled trades programs downstate.

Egan told of growing up in a poor family where going to college or into the skilled trades wasn’t considered an option. The choices, he said, were joining the military or working in a factory. He said a friend of the family suggested he take up a career as a sheet metal worker. That choice lead his family out of poverty.

“It changed me and the course of my family,” he said. “It changed the path of your life.”

Egan said there is a shortage of skilled trades workers and that shortage is likely to continue.

“Not enough human beings exist to meet future needs,” he said. “We can’t move forward without skilled trades workers.”

Egan said he is going to try to bring the concept of the Construction Connect UP program downstate.

Students who were “drafted” thought the program were Kayden Brown, Tyler Smith, Parker LaFand and Lexi Ross.

Businesses taking part were Berger & King, MJ Electric, Master Electric, Roy Ness and Sicora Sheet Metal.

The program will continue for the 2023-24 school year. To qualify, students must at the time of the program’s start:

≤ Be a high school senior at least 17 years old

≤ Be enrolled in a certified CTE program

≤ Have a driver’s license and reliable transportation

≤ Pass a drug screen

“The demand for skilled construction workers is growing in the U.P., with exciting projects like Billerud in Escanaba and the Soo Locks, and the renewable energy and electrification efforts coming in the future,” Smith said. “We are creating pathways for high school students to consider a wider variety of career options. In the union trades, you earn while you learn, and graduate debt-free with a skill that can take you anywhere.”


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