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Students learn how to nail down career

| Friday, Jan. 13, 2012

Patty Selby, an instructor for the Carpenters Training and Educational Fund of Greater Pennsylvania, didn't bring a hammer, a saw or even a 2-by-4 to show high school students attending an Apprentice Career Day hosted by Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Northpointe on Thursday.

But she did bring along the Pythagorean Theorem.

"How about when you learned a2 + b2 = c2 — remember that• You probably thought, when will I ever use that," said Selby. "Well, a lot of the things we do in carpentry is making things square, like roof framing and squaring walls and foundations. We rely on it."

Selby was there with some other members of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania's Joint Apprenticeship Schools of the Union Building Trades to encourage about 70 male and female students from the Armstrong, Leechburg Area and Freeport Area school districts and the Lenape Technical School to become interested in careers and apprenticeships as carpenters, boilermakers, bricklayers, masons, electricians, operating engineers, ironworkers, painters, plumbers, roofers, steamfitters and other building trades workers.

Selby graduated from Penn State University with plans to become an art teacher but she said she couldn't get a full-time position.

One day when Selby was substituting in a classroom, she looked out the window at a construction site.

"I saw someone climbing a ladder and thought it would be fun," she said. "So I decided to became a carpenter."

Jon Bowser has been hooked on the building trades for as long as he can remember.

"I'm really into welding so I'm looking at boilermakers and steamfitters," said Bowser, 18, of Cowansville and a senior at Kittanning High School. "Welding, rigging, working with torches, that's what boilermakers do. There's just something about being around a firing plant or any kind of steel mill. Blue-collar — that works for me. That's why I'm here."

The career day was arranged by the Builders Guild and guidance counselors from the attending schools.

"We're trying to give students the opportunity to see what different options are out there besides going to a four-year school," said Freeport Area High School guidance counselor Nina Fulton. "An apprenticeship school is not only free tuition but it's also on-the-job training and pay. It's a good option for a lot of our students. A lot of college graduates are not able to find a job. A lot of the jobs in the building trades are in demand and opening up, especially here in Western Pennsylvania."

Jason Fincke, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, asked students, "How many here know what you want to do after high school?" No hands went up.

"Do you want to go to college?" he asked. A few hands raised.

"Well, if you want a skill you can use for the rest of your life, you need to think of carpentry, plumbing or the other trades," Fincke said. "Those are all professions."

"You just don't pick up a hammer and start working," he said. "You need an education. Go to college first if you want. Our apprentices start at about 26 years of age. They come to this later. That's fine too. You can go to a trade school at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or you can try to get into a trade apprentice school."

There are 17 joint apprenticeship schools in Western Pennsylvania. The programs are tuition free and apprentices are paid as they learn on the job.

A person who is taking part in a union member apprenticeship of three to five years will earn from $60,000 to $125,000 while they are learning their trade. A union journeyman earns $40,000 to $60,000 annually. An apprentice starts at about 50 percent of the journeyman rate and receives increases as they progress.

Interested individuals should enjoy working with their hands and head, have basic math and reading skills and be willing to travel throughout the 33-county region.

Fincke said math and science are important and that showing a history of attendance (school, work) is just as important a factor in being selected to an apprentice program.

"We want people who we can say, 'I want this person on my job site, and know they'll be there,' " said Fincke. "If that's you, if you like to be outside, use your hands, make lots of money and have a job that you know can't be outsourced overseas, if you're that person, we want you."

"It can be a very rewarding career," he said. "And the jobs are there."

Additional Information:


What: Building trades apprenticeship programs

Who: The Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania

Qualifications: Be at least 18 years of age; have a high school diploma or GED; possess a valid Pennsylvania driver's license; have suitable transportation and be drug free

Cost: Training is free and apprentices earn wages, health care and other benefits throughout the program

To apply: For information about specific apprenticeship programs and how to apply, log on to the careers and training section of ; write to the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, Inc. 650 Ridge Road, Suite 301, Pittsburgh, PA, 15205 or call 412-921-9000

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