Metro-East Explorers get a taste of the trades


CAIDEN ANDERSON, 15, a Freeburg High School sophomore, puts the finishing touches on a birdhouse he built in a carpentry class during the Explorers training program. – Labor Tribune photo

Belleville, IL – The noise of hammers striking nails and electric saws buzzing through wood filled several trade apprentice classrooms in the Metro East during the first week of August.

But this wasn’t training for regular trades apprentices.

The trainees were high school students involved in a free local Explorers program. They got hands-on experiences during the week, showing them how they might consider careers in building and construction jobs.

The program included visits to the training centers for Iron Workers Local 392, Boilermakers Local 363, Operating Engineers Local 520, Sheet Metal Workers Local 268, Bricklayers Local 8, and the St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Council of Carpenters. The program provided bus rides to and from each day’s session, as well as lunch for the students.

“This is a great recruiting tool for these students,” said Donna Richter, chief executive officer of the Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program for the Southern Illinois Builders Association.

“A lot of these Explorers didn’t know exactly what a carpenter does, or a boilermaker,” she added. “Those are great potential careers for them.”

Kenny Roche, an employment counselor with the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, based near Belleville, said he himself had been among many high school students who weren’t ready to go to college straight out of high school.

KYLE SCHAEFER, a journeyman instructor with the Southern Illinois Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Program, shows how construction blueprints can be entered into a computer and then displayed in 3-D to help project managers at construction sites during a recent Explorers program at the Carpenters Training Center at 2290 S. Illinois St., near Belleville. Schaefer was one of the instructors at a recent Explorers program at the training center. Other participating unions that opened their training centers to the students included Iron Workers Local 392, Boilermakers Local 363, Operating Engineers Local 520, Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 and Bricklayers Local 8. – Labor Tribune photo

Roche said he trained instead as an apprentice for a good-paying job as a union carpenter. Only later did Roche earn an associate degree in applied science in carpentry to help him advance in his career.

Richter said news reports and word-of-mouth have made the Explorers annual training program more popular year after year. This year, enrollment in the Explorers program was limited to 20 high school students to allow each student plenty of time to do hands-on work and also get individual advice from instructors.

Another 27 high school students remained on a waiting list, she said.

Next year, the high school program may add another week-long session because of the demand, she said. A new session is being considered for the Carbondale, IL., area, she noted.

A key issue is that the ranks of construction workers have been thinning out, with veteran union workers retiring but not enough young workers coming in to replace them, Richter said. She said good union wages and benefits are available for those who are finishing high school if they enter apprenticeship programs.

Roche said that jobs are readily available for those with the incentive to go out and get them.

“Right now, if there’s anybody who wants to work but they’re not working, it’s their fault,” Roche said.

This year, the Explorers program’s students came from high schools in East Alton–Wood River, Collinsville, Father McGivney High in Maryville, Freeburg, Granite City, Hillsboro, Ill., O’Fallon, Ill., and Triad at Troy, Ill.

Caiden Anderson,15, a sophomore at Freeburg High, said his experience in the Explorers program made him think about becoming a heavy equipment operator at construction sites.

Of the program, Caiden said, “I really liked it. . . . It gave me an opportunity to learn about trades.”

AUSTIN JARRELL, 16, a Triad High School junior, concentrates on a carpentry project during the Explorers training program, which visited the training centers in the Metro East, including: Iron Workers Local 392, Boilermakers Local 363, Operating Engineers Local 520, Sheet Metal Workers Local 268, Bricklayers Local 8 and the Southern Illinois Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Program. – Labor Tribune photo

Austin Jarrell, 16, a junior at Triad High, said the Explorers program was good because it taught him new skills each day.

“I like being hands-on and not being stuck in an office or a classroom all day,” Jarrell said.
He said he was undecided about whether to join a trades apprenticeship program or to enter the military after high school.

In addition to the Explorer program, the Southern Illinois Builders Association hosts regular Construction Career Expos, where high school students are bused to a central location for briefings and demonstrations by experienced journeymen of the various skilled trades.

For more information, visit or call 618-624-9055.


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