Road to success: pre-apprenticeship at vocational school helps couple get started in carpenters union

During their junior and senior years, Peter Zulin and Christopher Soto both had a first-hand view of what it takes to become a union carpenter through a pre-apprenticeship program at the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice Training Center in Edison.

While Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High School in Perth Amboy had an excellent carpentry program with an experienced teacher who had been a member of the Carpenters Union, the new, state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot training center offered more instructors, advanced training and exposure to other areas of commercial carpentry, such as construction with metal studs, which are typically used in commercial construction.

“The students were able to experience commercial work instead of the traditional residential construction projects they do in their vocational schools with two-by-four lumber,” said Thomas J. Sommers, Director of Outreach and Development. from the Northeast Carpenters Apprenticeship Fund. “It was a real eye-opener for them that we were actually working with metal posts and not wood. “

Students also learned other aspects of carpentry, including jobs that most laymen do not associate with carpentry, such as millwrights, floor roofers, pile drivers, mousseurs and building bridges.

Zulin and Soto were addicted.

After graduating from high school in June, they applied for coveted positions as part of a four-year apprenticeship program at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

They are among six graduates from various vocational schools who began their apprenticeship earlier this month at the Edison Training Center, where they spent two weeks learning the skills they will need on the job site, including occupational health and safety administration rules. They now work on construction sites and earn about $ 20 an hour on top of benefits.

“If you like what you do while working, they say you never work a day in your life,” Soto said. “When I’m in the field and I’m in the workshop and we’re doing hands-on work, I really feel like I’m not working. I learn more, I use my skills and I show my skills.

The pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship program is an alternative career path, allowing students who do not want to attend four-year college the opportunity to earn a good salary in a job with advancement opportunities that offers health benefits. and a pension.

And, while students can bypass college, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to keep learning. The Edison Training Center has many classrooms where students learn skills, such as reading blueprints.

Zulin and Soto will return to the training center in about six to eight weeks for another week of training, then return to their construction sites. They will repeat this cycle until they get 200 hours of training per year for four years under their toolbelt. If they successfully complete the four-year program, they will become journeypersons and see a significant increase in their salary.

The pre-apprenticeship program with Middlesex County Vocational School was funded by a Youth Transition to Work Grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor. The grant paid for transportation costs for students from their high school to the training center as well as instructors, giving them exposure to new skills and opportunities far beyond what their vocational high school could offer. Grant funding for this year has not been finalized, although Sommers is optimistic the state will continue to fund the program.

Sommers, who was a union carpenter for 34 years and served as an instructor for a decade, is now working to build relationships with vocational high schools statewide to create career paths in the carpenters union.

The union is also encouraging vocational schools in counties across the state to adopt a program approved by the carpenters union called “Carrières Connexions”. Students who successfully complete the program would have equivalencies if they decided to become apprentice carpenters within the union, thereby shortening the time required to become journeymen.

Like most employers, the union is still focused on building its pool of future workers, and graduates of vocational schools in carpentry are ready to go as apprentices.

“The advantage of bringing them in from a vocational school over just getting off the streets is that their basic knowledge gives them a path to our organization,” Sommers said. “They have all the basic essentials. We don’t have to teach them to read a rule. They understand workplace safety, what it is like to go to a construction site, what is expected and how to act on a construction site.

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