Qualified workers in the skilled trades are in short supply.
Area trade organizations and school districts, including Waunakee, are joining forces to do something about it.
Launched in September, a new publicity campaign called “Trade Up” aims to get local teenagers to consider such careers after high school.
“If it’s successful in raising awareness, I could see it replicated throughout the state,” said Greg Benz, the school to career coordinator for Waunakee High School.
These are good-paying jobs, as Benz points out. What’s more, some trades will pay for training.
“One thing we’ve heard that’s common is that instead of going into debt paying for school, an apprenticeship can pay for schooling although it’s different for each trade,” Benz said.
Not only that, but apprentices do earn a paycheck as they learn.
“So, Monday through Thursday, you’ll be working and getting paid for your hours, and then on Fridays, you’ll be in the classroom and still getting paid for it,” Benz said.
It may take time for organizers to see the fruits of their labors, however. Benz admits its unlikely that they’ll see an immediate up-tick in the number of 18-and-over graduates going into these fields.
“But when we track kids down five or six years from now, that’s when we think we’ll see a good increase,” Benz said.
Waunakee is one of 16 Dane County high school districts participating in “Trade Up,” which provides detailed information on how to become electricians, sheet metal workers, steamfitters, plumbers, laborers, bricklayers, iron workers and painters and drywall finishers.
So far, these are the eight trades being promoted by “Trade Up,” and others could be added in the future. Benz sees the program as a bridge bringing these industries and their future workforces together.
A mix of print and interactive media, “Trade Up” is being produced by the Workforce Development Board. Information on each trade is available to students, educators and parents on the website http://www.wdbscw.org/trade-up, where visitors can also watch explanatory videos on them as well.
Talks from people in those trades are filmed, allowing interested parties to hear personal testimonials of how they got into their current jobs.
Inside school walls, a different trade will be spotlighted every month at Waunakee High School. This month, it’s sheet metal. In September, electricians had their turn.
On the walls in the tech ed area of the high school, banners have been hung for both, with six more on the way. Each features a wealth of career information about those trades, including salary expectations, employment outlook, educational background, length of apprenticeships, etc.
Posters inside classrooms also detail some of the same information.
Of great importance to Benz, however, is the listing of a contact person and how to get a hold of them.
“For me, as a former counselor, one of the things that was pointed out was that for students wanting to go to a four-year college, it’s a similar process for everybody,” Benz explained. “You have to get good grades, take the ACT ... and it’s uniform for everybody.”
It’s not that simple for the skilled trades.
“One of the complaints about the trades is that each trade has its own process,” Benz said. “That’s why I wanted a contact person listed who the student can contact to find out what the process is for getting into that trade.”
Just as crucial to Benz is educating parents on the different career pathways and benefits of employment in the skilled trades.
The idea of how to promote the skilled trades was broached by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Each month, school-to-career coordinators from Dane County schools get together to discuss a variety of issues. One of the main focuses, according to Benz, had to do with youth apprenticeships and giving participating students credit for their work.
Benz said the group is always looking for speakers. Clay Tschillard, a member of the Wisconsin Development Board of South Central Wisconsin and apprenticeship coordinator for Wisconsin NECA-IBEW Electrical Apprenticeship & Training, was one of them.
It was Tschillard who brought up the issue of a shortage of well-trained workers in the skilled trades.
From there, “Trade Up” was developed as a means of getting businesses, education and other community organizations to collaborate on ways to ready young adults to enter the workforce.
The costs of the marketing materials for “Trade Up” are shared by the trade organizations, footing 85 percent of the bill, and the school, which pays the other 15 percent.
“Originally, we were looking at a cost of $3,000 for all eight banners,” Benz said. “
Once the trade organizers stepped up, the cost for the school was greatly lowered. It could be a good deal for all involved.
“A trade may only pick up one or two (new workers), but that’s one or two they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Benz said. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”
The biggest beneficiaries, though, would be those who make a career for themselves in those fields.
As college costs skyrocket and families think twice about higher education for their children, skilled trades become a more enticing option.
“You’ve got a perfect storm of people talking about college debt, with parents talking about it and students talking about it, and the Governor talking about the manufacturing trades,” said Benz. “It’s a good time to do some promotion.”