Metro East high school students explore construction careers


KAYLEEN McCABE wears a construction hard hat while speaking to high school students at Belleville about union apprenticeships.
– Labor Tribune photo

Belleville, IL – If Metro East area high school students needed a pep talk on the value of a career in construction, they sure got one from Kayleen McCabe.

“I like creating things,” former cable TV star McCabe told  students gathered recently at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Belleville.

“I love construction, and it is an art. I am an artist,” McCabe continued. She was the keynote speaker at the day-long event. In answering a student’s question, she said she had earned “a few millions of dollars” through her careers in construction and as the former host of the show “Rescue Renovation” on the old DIY Network on cable TV. The show ran for five seasons, and featured McCabe and her construction crews saving building projects that had gone wrong.

The Belleville event was designed to show high schoolers from throughout southwestern Illinois that there are good alternatives to starting college immediately after graduating from high school. The event was sponsored by the Southern Illinois Builders Association and its affiliated Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program.

Participating unions included Boilermakers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Cement Masons, Electricians, Ironworkers, Laborers, Operating Engineers, Painters, Plumbers & Pipefitters, Steamfitters, and Sheet Metal Workers.

McCabe noted that union construction apprenticeships are more valuable than a college education to many students right out of high school. And many of the apprenticeship programs pay for college courses for students who become certified as apprentices.

The average starting salary after completing a registered union apprenticeship is nearly $77,000, according to the AFL-CIO. Through the programs, construction contractors develop a highly skilled workforce. And the trained workers get paid work experience, classroom learning and a pathway to success.

Donna Richter, chief executive officer of the Southern Illinois Builders Association, said both contractors and trained union workers benefit greatly from recruiting new trainees.

“We are a little unique here,” Richter said. “A lot of contractors elsewhere don’t have that kind of close relationship with the unions.”

McCabe told the students that it takes 27 different union trades to build a house. In addition, she said, literally hundreds of skilled construction workers are needed on major commercial, industrial, and government construction projects.

ALEX BEVINEAU, 14, a Belleville East High School freshman, drives on a computer-simulated earth mover. – Labor Tribune photo
JAMIYA PARAHAM, 14, a freshman at Belleville East High School, uses a trowel and mortar at a Bricklayers Union exhibit at Belleville. – Labor Tribune photo

“Apprentices learn so much, and the technology they use now is off the charts,” added McCabe, who is based in the Denver area but travels around the nation giving construction seminars as well as recruiting young people for apprenticeships.

Students at the Belleville event enjoyed trying various trades using computer technology and taking part in hands-on experiences.

“This is fun,” said Alex Bevineau, 14, a freshman at Belleville East High School. “You can simulate driving construction equipment and all kinds of other stuff with the computers.”

Alex used a computer simulation to experience what it’s like to drive an earth mover at the exhibit sponsored by Operating Engineers Local 520, based in Granite City.

At the exhibit sponsored by Bricklayers Local 8, based in Belleville, Jamiya Paraham, 14, tried working with a trowel and mortal to build a small brick wall.

More information about the various skilled trades and their apprenticeships in southern Illinois is available at

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