Instructor Eugene Frazier talks about the sheet metal apprenticeship program in Dayton. The five-year program is at no cost to trainees, who also do paid work and qualify for health insurance and a pension.

Apprenticeship programs lead to big pay

Erin Hause went to college right after high school.

She took out $30,000 in student loans, earned an associate degree in welding and went to work in Mississippi. And then, she was laid off.

When she wanted new skills, Hause took a different route. She is one of about 45 Dayton area residents enrolled in a sheet metal apprentice program. Students in the program work full-time starting at $12.60 per hour in Dayton and increasing $26.50. They receive employer-paid health insurance and a pension plan. The $7,000-a-year training they receive at night is at no cost to them. And at the end of the five-year program they qualify for 46 college credits, again for no money out of their pockets.

“I wish I would have come here first… but I didn’t even know things like this really existed when I was looking for education options,” the Kettering resident said. “The best part is knowing about the future. It’s kind of job security. As long as I’m putting in the effort, they’re going to help me stay employed.”

While it is widely said that America is not producing as many college graduates as it needs to fill jobs, less is promoted about the 29 million “middle jobs” that pay an annual salary of $35,000 or more and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Nationwide, $38 billion is invested in apprenticeship programs nationwide, according to Georgetown.

“They’ve always called it the untold secret, the other five year degree,” said Eugene Frazier, instructor in the Sheet Metal Local 24 Joint Apprenticeship Program.

“They don’t realize what a gift it is to be able to come in some place and not have a bit of skill sets and leave with craftsmanship,” he said. “You need to take a look at apprenticeship programs because in today’s world we’re having a hard time finding people.”

Many options in Dayton

The Dayton area has a number of apprenticeship programs, which are offered at no cost and in many cases are set up so trainees do paid work at the same time.

“It’s an opportunity to learn while you earn,” said Maurice Davis, coordinator for the Operating Engineers apprenticeship program in Miamisburg.

The programs, which are typically three to five years, include training for cement masons; electricians; heat and frost insulators and asbestos workers; ironworkers; laborers; operating engineers; painters; plasters; plumbers, pipe fitters and refrigeration; and roofers.

They require a worker be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, and in many cases possess a license and the ability to pass a drug test.

Dayton-area high schoolers can also receive career training before they graduate through programs such as those at the Ponitz Career Technology Center, said counselor Zulaikha Wright.

“They’re career ready,” she said.

Adults can also receive training at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center for a cost. The center posts information on the salary of graduates and what percent find work after graduating, said Amy Leedy.

In the case of the state tested nurse aid, students can earn their training and state certification in as little as two weeks, she said.

“Because college costs are so high now, student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt, so I think there are concerns there,” she said. “On the parents’ part, they look at what is a more economical way to get a start here and make sure this is the right career path.”

‘Alternative route’

In the sheet metal program, students range from freshly out of high school to 45-year-olds who lost their jobs, Frazier said. They learn skills from reading and making blueprints to welding. The “rigorous” program, which is funded through contractor contributions, is marking its 125th anniversary, and it now has 100 percent employment, Frazier said.

He said nowadays, “people seem to think that everyone has to go to college,” but there are college graduates in his program who come to the apprenticeship and earn money from the first day.

“Once you’re in the program, you’re not looking for your next job. That’s our responsibility,” Frazier said.

Trenton Bruner, 25, said he joined after having a daughter and finding he could not afford to go to college for computer science and support his family at the same time. Before joining the program, Bruner also worked a series of “dead end jobs” and joined the U.S. Air Force.

“I had no clue at all what sheet metal was. It turned out to be an awesome, awesome program,” the Huber Heights resident said.

Matthew Elkins, 26, of Kettering, is in his fifth year of the program and works doing 3D modeling and design.

Elkins, who has an associate degree in mechanical engineering, said his friends are just finishing college with debt and sometimes making just $11 an hour.

“The pay off is not there, which is why I went an alternative route,” he said.

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