Plumbers and Pipefitters apprenticeship offers training in growing industry

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Some call it one of the best-paying careers in northern Illinois, so why don't we hear much about it?

Promoters say a job as a construction worker can offer competitive pay and benefits, but people in the industry believe these jobs don't receive the attention they deserve.

"It's put out there that the better educated you are, the more money you'll make. Well, that's not necessarily true," says apprenticeship student, Josh Revelle.

Revelle started his apprenticeship with Plumbers and Pipefitters last year after working in the pipeline industry.

"Just came a time where I wanted to go back to the trades - make more money, and a better opportunity," says Revelle.

He says he found the perfect position through an apprenticeship with Plumbers and Pipefitters, to support his family and do something he enjoys.

"It's the best option to make money, and have a good living, and have something for the future when you go to retire," says Revelle.

"It's a best-kept-secret for young men and women to have the possibility of going into an apprenticeship program," says training coordinator, Greg Harle.

Harle teaches at plumbers and pipefitters.

He says he wants to generate more interest for the program in Rockford.

"In rural Winnebago, Stevenson, Ogle, Jo-Daviess, in Carol, we get really good reception. We're still struggling here within Rockford," says Harle.

Harle says, while 10% of applicants are from Rockford, and 90% are from counties out west.

90% of recruitment time is spent in Rockford, and 10% spent in the west.

Harle says Rockford area schools have very limited ag and welding programs, while schools from Ogle, Stevenson, and Jo-Daviess counties still have extensive classes.

"There's going to be more people retiring over the next five years. This skills gap creates a tension where there's more opportunity and less workers to fulfill that demand," says Project First-Rate Executive Director, Jake Castanza.

Castanza helps connect people with apprenticeships in the construction industry. He says these jobs are expected to grow by 12% in the next five years.

"There is a skills gap that is a shortage in workers that have the capabilities to fill the need."

In order for someone to be eligible for these jobs they must:
1. Be 18 years or older
2. Have a driver's license and method of transportation
3. Must be able to pass a drug test.

Castanza says enrolling in a program like plumbers and pipefitters means students won't have to worry about loans.

"The college-for-all mentality has actually led to individuals wracking up a certain amount of debt and they come out of college with a job that's less than what an apprentice would make," says Castanza.

Castanza believes the fact these jobs aren't glamorous may be leading to less applicants.

"Construction is not an appealing industry when it comes to the engineering, or marketing or what we like to describe as soft skill jobs."

However, students like Revelle say these positions are more rewarding than they seem..

"When people construction, typically they're thinking of building a building, you know, something of that nature. When we're already in existing buildings and we're redoing piping systems or adding boilers. That's what I really like about it - you're not in the same place putting in the same screw all the time. You're doing something different every day."

The apprenticeship is two nights a week and also offers on-the-training so that students can be paid while they're in training. The apprenticeship program takes five years and graduates then become Journeyman who are paid an average of 47 dollars an hour.