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Breaking Into the Construction Industry

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Apprenticeship programs offer possible solutions

As the economy continues to rebound from the pandemic fallout, construction led the way with sizeable growth in 2021 despite challenges around the supply chain and disruption of Covid variants. In Colorado Springs alone, there were 4,000 units of apartments and 5,000 single-family homes permitted, and 550 new commercial projects were approved, a 34 percent increase over 2020, according to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

Coupled with the historic outlay from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, opportunities in construction will be on the rise.

So, how does someone break into construction, and more importantly, how do they decide which trade is best suited for their skills?

One option is apprenticeships, and the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council (CBCTC) works with its craft trade locals to recruit, educate and train Coloradans for the construction sector.

At any given time, there may be between 450 to 500 apprentices learning in the various craft trades program, said Jason Wardrip, CBCTC business manager. The opportunities for apprentices vary across the trades, from bricklayers, painters and dry finishers, electricians, plumbers, sheet metal workers to elevator constructors and telecommunications installer and technicians. Apprenticeships are available across the state as well, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Grand Junction, Sheridan and Brighton.

An apprentice works alongside a journey craftsperson and takes educational classes to hone their trade and capabilities. “We tell our apprentices to show up to work on time, listen, be respectful and ask questions. They will also learn the mathematics and theory for their specific trade,” Wardrip noted. “And, apprentices are also earning while learning.”

Each apprenticeship for the various trades has specific standards, what they are going to learn, hours required and how many years to become a journeyman. Apprentices are required to have a high school diploma or have passed the GED.

“They don’t have to know construction,” Wardrip said. “They don’t have to know what crafts they want to get into, whether it is welder, painter, pipefitter or plumber. We have that ability to help them make these decisions.”

Wardrip’s favorite part of his job is meeting with potential apprentices to talk about the opportunities. “When we go to high schools, we take crafts persons and apprenticeship directors to talk to the students. We are planting the seeds for these young people.”

In addition to high schools, CBCTC visits correctional facilities to bring apprenticeship opportunities to support with re-entry into the community. “When we go to prisons, we take people who were formerly incarcerated and who have fixed their lives. There’s one woman we take to our women’s prison visits, and they remember her. She tells them how this apprenticeship helped change her life. She was able to buy a home and got married.”

The organization also supports Helmets to Hardhats, which is a nationwide program run by the North America’s Building Trades Unions to help veterans transition from military service to a civilian career.

Wardrip aptly describes the various apprenticeship programs as “passing on the gift of education.”

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