In the midst of a pandemic when people have lost jobs or just want to make a career change, the Carpenters Union has figured out a way to help. They have an innovative program designed for students.
While they have been serving adults with their Apprenticeships, they are now offering a way to help high school students get a jump -tart on a career.
Through their new initiative “Career Connections” the St. Louis- Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council is providing a pathway to a job through cutting-edge technical education.
In this age where so much emphasis has been placed in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the Career Connections program works in partnership with high schools to provide students with an idea of what a career in carpentry can look like and they lay out a plan for how that student can get there.
The Career Connections program works in partnership with educators to provide students with a practical STEM education taught by skilled instructors. With more than 2,500 students in 70+ programs across Missouri, Kansas and Southern Illinois. It has been so successful that their graduates have gone on to earn six figure salaries as union carpenters.
R.J. Catizon coordinates the St Louis Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Program and oversees the Career Connections.
“There is so much work in the St. Louis Metro Area,” said Catizon. “When it comes to work and infrastructure. We have people who are interested but lack the skills.”
There are many reasons a student might choose to get involved in the Career Connections program, but one of the best is they can get on a path to get educated without debt. Some Career Connections graduates go on to college to earn a four-ear degree and some choose to start working right after high school. The program helps them get a head start on their career, whichever route they choose.
“With the skills learned in high school, they can come into our apprenticeship after they graduate,” said Catizon. “They can take all of those skills into their career path. We also offer post-secondary education– credits that go towards college credits if someone wants that.”
The high school learning is held at the high school, but after that they go into the apprenticeships, they move to the Carpenter’s facility in Affton, shown left, where they will learn and work in the field.
The Carpenters Union was started in St. Louis, so the Greater St. Louis Area is unique in that most houses built there are built by union contractors.
During the pandemic, the building industry has grown possibly more than any other industry because of the fact that people were stuck in their homes and realized they wanted to have work done.
Others chose to update their homes to have home offices, and many added decks. While COVID-19 has provided time for people to get projects done, the main thing is just the warmer weather is allowing for more projects to get in gear.
According to Brian Russell of the Carpenters Regional Council, spring is when construction really takes off. The seasonal change, combined with a booming economy is leading to many new construction projects across St. Louis and their three-state region as a whole. It has led to more work available than workers with the skills needed to do those jobs.
“I think the stigmas and stereotypes that keep so many people from pursuing a truly useful skill, begin with the mistaken belief that a four-year degree is somehow superior to all other forms of learning,” said Rowe, adding that “Not all knowledge comes from college.”
The lack of students going into trades has led to the current situation.
“We just don’t have the trained workforce we need to perform the jobs available,” said Russell. “Career Connections works to counter that, and while the biggest payoff will be down the line as these kids grow and learn and hopefully become journeyman carpenters, even in the immediate future this helps us get more beginner carpenters into the fold and working.”
All Career Connections graduates are given entry to debt-free apprenticeship programs. These programs offer classroom learning in their large Affton facility as well as working in the field. They spend one week every four months in classrooms and for the rest of the time they are assigned to a construction company and they apply what they have learned on a job site.
The classrooms have desks, but then after they learn the skills they go into the “work site” areas. The photo to the left shows where the apprentices would learn to build stairs.
Some of the apprentices who were Career Connections students may also receive dual enrollment credit through a college articulated program if they get certified.
A career in carpentry provides opportunities for good wages, healthcare, and career advancement. From infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and schools, innovative housing and green building, carpentry work is more essential than ever.
It’s not your parents’ construction industry anymore. These days a career in carpentry could be working with drones or advanced machinery, and with the new Career Connections, students will learn how to use the latest technology and software in the construction industry.
The Carpenters also offer electrical training.
Jamie Frisella is the Director Of Education and Electrical Apprenticeship for the Carpenters and their electricians arm the Associated Electrical Contractors.
“We have a five-year program with the AEC,” Frisella said. “Right now we are teach a lot of solar. Solar is making a comeback.”
The photo, left shows part of their solar panel education area. The electrical part of the apprenticeship complex is full of many different learning exhibits.
“I was hired to develop curriculum and teach the classes,” said Frisella. “We teach them about motors.”
The photo, right shows Frisella with a motor starter in the electrical area.
Frisella said they have apprentices based in at least fourteen states.
“We’re hiring entry-level and experienced workers,” he said.
When the time comes for choosing a career, some people want to feel they are contributing to a greater cause.
A career as a carpenter or electrician will produce things that last. Using their hands, carpenters feel a sense of satisfaction to see something they created or worked on actually come to fruition.
They are building infrastructure for work and play for generations to come. A career in carpentry means creating a lasting impact, not only for students and their families, but their communities.
What Does the Career Connections Program Offer?
- A project-based curriculum that combines classroom learning with hands-on experiences
- Tiered curriculum that targets young people at their educational level
- Training and professional development for educators
- A dedicated Career Connections coordinator that provides frequent support to educators
- Networking and career opportunities to help connect students to employers in the construction industry
- Resources and supplies to support educators
What about a person who reads this and wishes they had had this Career Connections Program when they were in school. Or maybe they feel unfulfilled in their job—or perhaps they have lost their job due to COVID-19. Can a person with no experience get any of this training?
“Absolutely they can!” said Brian Russell. “We see that frequently, in fact. The median age of an apprentice with the Carpenters Regional Council is 28, which indicates that for many of our apprentices, carpentry is not the career they went into immediately after high school.”
What about college grads who have not found a job yet?
“We often have people come to us after having graduated, or nearly graduated, with a college degree and are now struggling to find a good-paying job in their degree field,” said Russell. “They recognize that a career in carpentry will afford them the opportunity to earn good wages and benefits that will set them up for a solid middle class lifestyle doing work they enjoy. Interested prospective members can visit us online to learn more at: https://www.carpdc.org/Careers”
The gap between jobs available and the number of skilled workers available to do it has been growing for several years. Through their Career Connections, they are working with local high schools to educate students, and just as importantly their parents, that a career in the skilled trades is a legitimate option.
“Not every student needs or wants to attend a four-year college, and our program provides the education and training needed to be successful without going into the debt typical of college,” said Russell.
Apprenticeships with the Carpenters Regional Council, start at $15 per hour. They train and grow their skills on the way to becoming a journeyman carpenter, where wages can top $55 per hour.
“With college debt a heavy burden on so many people, it makes sense to enter a career where the training is free and you’re working in your chosen field at the same time,” said Russell.
For more information on the Career Connections program or Carpenters apprenticeships:, call R.J. Catizon at 314 269-5663- Or go to their website: http://www.carpdc.org
Photo Credits:: Photo of Mike Rowe, courtesy Mike Rowe; Photos of Carpenters Facility by Sally Tippett Rains