Explorer Scouts spend a week learning about construction jobs

Illinois Correspondent

SCOTT RICKETTS, director of market development for Sheet Metal Workers Local 268, shows Explorer scouts Antoine Bigham of Mascoutah (center) and Ayden Martin of Collinsville (at right) how to bend and cut metal.
CHRIS KELLEY, apprentice training coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers Local 268, shows the Explorer scouts how to use a machine to cut and bend metal sheets.

Caseyville, IL – More than 20 Metro-East high school students got a week-long taste of what it’s like to work in the trades for good wages last week, courtesy of several union locals and the Southern Illinois Builders Association.

The combined effort, under the title of Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program (SICAP), could become an annual opportunity for young people looking for ways to earn good livings and learn valuable skills, said Donna Richter, the SICAP CEO.

The program was set up by the Builders Association to promote safety, workforce development and economic development.

In this event, the program tapped into the region’s Explorer troops to find young men and women who would like to know more about working the trades.

“We’re just trying to get more students interested in careers in construction, because a lot of them don’t have a clue that this is a viable option with good pay and good benefits,” Richter said.

The program provided lunch and bus rides to union training sites on this schedule:

Monday – The students met with Shannon Foley, business manager of Cement Masons and Plasterers Local 90, and visited the Carpenters District Council in Belleville, where they made bird houses.

Tuesday – The students heard from Kevin Stewart, apprentice coordinator for Boilermakers Local 363, and bent conduit at the IBEW Local 309 hall in Collinsville.

Wednesday – The group was at Plumbers and Gas Fitters Local 360’s apprentice school in Caseyville, threading pipe, and they also met with Rusty Redman, apprentice coordinator for Operating Engineers Local 520.

Thursday – They learned skills at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 apprentice school in Caseyville and also met with Dan Ellegood, apprentice coordinator of Iron Workers Local 392.

Friday – The students visited the construction site for a new rehab hospital in Shiloh, with general contractor IMPACT Strategies, and met with Shane Garrison, apprentice coordinator for Bricklayers Local 8.

“They’re getting to tour the job site to see what actually goes on and, hopefully, see how the different crafts all work together and what they do,” Richter said. “It’s a great opportunity for them that they might not have had a chance to do otherwise.”

Richter’s program developed a 16-page booklet for the students with the enticing title, “What Can You Expect to Earn?” Trades included are Boilermakers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Cement Masons, Plasterers, Electricians, Iron Workers, Laborers, Operating Engineers, Painters, Plumbers, Gasfitters, Pipefitters, Roofers, Sheet Metal Workers and Steamfitters.

The issue is that the ranks have been thinning out, with veteran union workers retiring but not enough new young workers coming in to replace them, Richter said. The booklet covers wages, benefits and how to apply for apprenticeships.

“Their eyes just open up wide, and we hope they’ll go home and tell their parents, although a lot of times, these students have to sell their parents on the idea,” she said.

It’s worth noting that students don’t have to pay for union apprenticeship training, she said.

“It’s strictly paid for by the unions,” she said. “They can earn as they learn, and with no college debt. That should be appealing to a lot of parents, too.”

Richter hopes to continue the program next summer and, hopefully, to expand it.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done this, so we’re hoping this gains some speed and maybe we can start offering a summer, weeklong work camp every year and have more unions involved and more apprentice schools,” she said.

“If we needed to do two weeks, I’d be receptive to that,” she added. “I think the kids are excited, and it gives them other options.”

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