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Going to college not the only path to success

MERRILLVILLE | Area school counselors and teachers learned about the challenges and opportunities of the construction trades Wednesday on a tour of several region training centers and a construction site.

About 40 educators learned about sheetmetal, carpentry, plumbing and electrical careers during a program organized by Northwest Indiana Works Council, READY NWI and the Construction Advancement Foundation.

Lee Culver, of Plumbers Local 210, told the group his union’s apprenticeship program has plenty of opportunity – “we struggle to get good applicants,” he said.

The five-year program does not charge students, who earn $17.27, with benefits, while they work.

“It’s a tough five years,” Culver said. “We expect a lot in return.”

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697 training director Ken Jania said the union’s apprenticeship program has a graduation rate of about 95 percent, but “the first year is the toughest. They don’t know how hard they can work.”

The application process for its program takes almost a year, he said.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697 business manager Dan Waldrup welcomed the group to the union’s headquarters and training facility in Merrillville. He said a constantly changing industry led the union to build the facility – whose wind turbine is visible from Interstate 65 – four years ago.

On a tour of the facility, program participants saw laboratory classrooms where students work on a variety of control and communications systems, as well as traditional conduit and wiring.

“We have to train for the old, we have to train for the new,” Waldrup said.

Ivy Tech Community College representatives introduced the educators to the school’s associate’s degree programs in construction careers. They said they work closely with the unions, and students typically earn a degree while in an apprenticeship program.

David Walters, a careers and financial literacy teacher at Eggers Middle School in Hammond, said the tour helped the educators learn about opportunities in construction careers that might be a good fit for their students, and “how to have them apply, what they need to do to be eligible.”

The school teaches a careers class in eighth-grade, and Hammond operates a career center for high school juniors and seniors, he said.

Chesterton High School counselor James Moore said the day provided “something I’d like to bring up as another option” for students considering their futures. “They can have a comfortable lifestyle and a career they enjoy doing.”

“It’s definitely eye-opening,” he said. “As I learned more, I can think of a number of students I can share this with.”

Kevin Comerford, of the Construction Advancement Foundation, said tours like Wednesday’s are about getting the word out regarding construction careers. To that end, CAF has started a website at www.WeBuildNWI.com with information for schools and families regarding construction-related careers.