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High school students learn about trade careers at Belleville expo

Trade union officials said a lot of people are retiring and they’re looking for a new generation of young men and women to fill good jobs.

BELLEVILLE, Illinois — High school students are getting a chance to try their skills and learn about possible trade career options at a construction career expo that continues through Thursday.

The Southern Illinois Builders Association is sponsoring the 3-day event at Belle-Claire Fairgrounds in Belleville.

Trade union officials said a lot of people are retiring and they’re looking for a new generation of young men and women to fill good jobs, starting through apprenticeships.

Here’s a list of basic beginning wage scales for the following trades, provided by the Southern Illinois Builders Association:

  • Boilermakers $40.50
  • Bricklayers $34.50
  • Carpenters, residential $31.61
  • Carpenters, commercial $41.62
  • Cement masons $36.75
  • Plasterers $35.50
  • Electricians $45.49
  • Iron workers $38.80
  • Laborers $28.09
  • Operating engineers $40.95
  • Painters $32.45
  • Plumbers & Gasfitters Local 360 $41.00
  • Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 101 $42.95
  • Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 553 $46.56
  • Sheet metal workers $40.74
  • Steamfitters $41.75

Kenny Roche is a member of the Mid-America Carpenter’s Regional Council.

“Seems like all the students that come through really enjoy the hammering,” said Roche, describing a hammering competition students participate in. “They like to race their buddies.”

“Earn as you learn with no college debt” is the message for more than 1,200 students from 26 area high schools who are coming here to try on the trades.

Donna Richter with the Southern Illinois Builders Association said not a day goes by that she doesn’t get asked by a contractor, “Do you know where I can find more carpenters or plumbers?”

Trades officials said apprentices can start making up to $25 an hour with a high school diploma and get paid benefits and a pension. Trade unions also offer paid training.

“Right out of high school, as soon as they graduate, they can get involved. No student loans, no college debt. All the training is free,” Roche said.

“I think what’s happening is a lot of parents and students are realizing they don’t want to go to a university and get a degree. They want to work with their hands, and so the construction industry is a viable option. Plus, there’s no debt. The unions pay for all the training,” Richter said.

During the expo, Highland High School student Nick Schoeck utilized a simulated welder.

“It was pretty good,” said Schoeck. “I got to see how my arc length looked, how close I was to the metal. I’ve always liked welding. Welding is something that excites me. I really could see myself pursuing that as a career.”

Jennifer Tull is with Cement Masons Local 90.

“The students seem pretty interested,” said Tull. “They have a good time finishing it and making it smooth and learning how we make the concrete look very nice. For me, it’s a great career. I wish I had known about it when I was younger. I wish my schools would have talked more about it and taught us this.”

If your child does not attend one of the 26 high schools involved, he or she can still attend the expo. Organizers have an open house for students and parents Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 5-7 p.m. Parking and admission are free.

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