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St. Louis area teens get paid $1,000 to learn the trades as a career path

The ultimate goal is to empower students with options beyond college.

ST. LOUIS — A local trade program is drilling in a new set of skills for 21 students this summer. 

For 10 days, students were in the Heavy Metal Summer Experience.

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association St. Louis (SMACNA St. Louis) realized it needed to shake things up by diversifying the field.

Kyle Tibbs is the Executive Vice President of SMACNA St. Louis.

"This is us saying we know we need to change," Tibbs said. "Our workforce needs to look like the population of St. Louis and we need to better to diversifying and sharing our trade."

In its first year, the program received 150 applications in just five days.

Leaders narrowed it down to 21 students from different areas from Wentzville to Ferguson.

"We picked a very diverse geographic set of students because we wanted kids representing the entire St. Louis area and not just pockets that’s been traditionally known in our industry," Tibbs said.

In the camp, teens learned the major markets from commercial, residential, and architecture work. From bending pipes to building items out of sheet metals, kids were able to submerge into a new world.

Each student received $7,500 in training, supplies, and rewards for completing the camp, including tools, a tool bag, boots, safety equipment, and $1,000.

"We understand not everyone will join it, but we are going to pay them $1,000 so they can learn and spread it throughout their high schools and communities," Tibbs said. 

Ariyanna Johnson was one of the students chosen and she says it was a positive learning experience.

"Being a Black woman first off, there is another Black woman here, but I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I’m the only person that looks like me but being here there are more people that look like me and it makes me want to do it!" she said.

The purpose of the program is to recruit now, since 30% of the workforce will retire in the next few years, according to Tibbs.

Tibbs says exposure is key for their union but also the industry.

"College isn’t for everyone and there are other trade schools and you can get paid to go to school for five years and earn $80,000 a year," he adds.

The ultimate goal is to empower students with options beyond college.

That's why the organization plans to do this again next summer with a group of 20 students.

For more information about SMACNA St. Louis, click here.

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