Students get apprenticeships on Draft Day

Escanaba High School senior Cade Franks signs with Miron Construction Company and Carpenters and Millwrights Local 1510. (Escanaba Daily Press photo)

ESCANABA — A graduation ceremony doubling as a draft day for students that will be entering building trades was held at the UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 111 Hall in Escanaba.

Eleven graduating seniors from Escanaba, Gladstone, Iron Mountain, Marquette and Rapid River were recruited by local electric, mechanical, metalworking and construction companies Friday, which makes for that many workers of the next generation that will stay in the Upper Peninsula to help build its future.

The program that provided these youngsters with the knowledge and skills to get their feet in the door is called Construction Connect UP and was designed through the collaborative efforts of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council (UPCC) — which is made up of affiliated trade unions and signatory contractors — local Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, and Upper Peninsula Michigan Works!

“Currently, it’s challenging to supply enough skilled craftspersons to meet the demand of construction projects across our nation,” said UPCC Executive Director Mike Smith. “To compound this issue, in the next seven years, 40% of those currently working with the tools will be eligible to retire.”

Smith explained that the Construction Connect program “creates interest and opportunity for young people to determine their own fate where defined pathways to success are identified.”

For most of the students exiting the program, this 2023-2024 school year brought the completion of their second year of CTE training. As juniors, they enroll in building trades courses; senior year is for more more specialized, real-world, hands-on job experience.

“As a senior, they sign up for this — they’re still enrolled in our CTE program, but instead of coming to class, they go to the job site,” said Delta-Schoolcraft ISD CTE Director Trent Bellingar.

Beyond the workplace learning, Bellingar said the students also have to complete other necessary adult job tasks — whether it be the matter of filling out a time sheet or soft skills like effective communication.

Upon their graduation from the Construction Connect program, Cade Franks, Brett Labre, Nate Lanaville and Ty Miron from Escanaba High School; Nick Matthews from Gladstone High School; Dylan Premo and Luke Wolfe from Iron Mountain High School; Kolby Hood from Kingsford High School; Dakota Carey and Tyler Thomas from Marquette High School and Abbigail Hardwick from Rapid River High School all signed onto three- to five-year apprenticeship programs.

“You made a great decision at a great time in your life,” UP Michigan Works! Executive Director Deb Brunell addressed the students, calling them “dedicated” and “resilient.”

And the word echoed: “Resilience — it’s not a common skill these days, but it is very much needed and important,” Brunell emphasized, and said that Michigan Works! was proud to be a part of programs like Construction Connect to support “sustainable” careers.

Smith said that so far, 12 students — four from the Escanaba area, four from the Iron Mountain area, and four from the Marquette area — have been selected to join the program next year, and they’re looking to grow across the U.P. and gain students from the Sault Ste. Marie area.

Information on the UPCC and its programs, including a summer camp that is now open for registration, may be found at upconstruction.org.


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