A training center for apprentice carpenters in Beijing is expanding

Carpenters are currently the largest group of skilled workers. But did you know that hundreds of people train here in central Illinois?

The Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council’s apprenticeship and training program in Beijing has been training new generations of carpenters for four decades. Roy Eash answered the call for an apprenticeship because he was attracted to the idea of ​​no student loans, no post-graduate debt, and hands-on training in a skilled trade from instructors with hands-on experience. He graduated from the program approximately 24 years ago and is now a field superintendent for the Mid-Illinois Companies, based in Peoria, where he worked as an apprentice and journeyman.

“The instructors were previously in the field, building everything we do,” Eash said. “Then they passed that knowledge on to the members. They had the desire to teach and they seemed to really want the apprentices to become better (carpenters) than they are.”

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Seth Hart, who is completing his second year in the program, is currently an apprentice at Hein Construction Co. He graduated from Western Illinois University and moved into a warehouse supervisor position for the seed corn company. – but those seven years have started to wane. on him.

“I was stuck on the second shift and looking for a different job where I could help my wife with our kids,” Hart explained. “My uncle was in the carpenters union and I told him about it. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I signed up.”

Trade schools have traditionally sought to attract new apprentices by offering them a chance to earn while they learn rather than paying tuition fees and racking up student debt. Phil Davidson, director of communications for the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, believes this message resonates more with high school students than it did in previous years.

“They look at the cost of college, and even in public schools, you’re lucky to come out of school with less than $ 100,000 in debt,” Davidson said. “It’s a big debt to pay, especially when you’re a youngster trying to make your way and get your own home.

Apprentices practice scaffolding at the Beijing campus of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Program on November 30, 2021. The training center offers several practical situations for students to practice construction and carpentry.

What do apprentices have in store?

After a nine-week pre-apprenticeship, students at the Beijing institution enter a four-year program that combines hands-on classroom training with on-the-job training. According to Rob Swegle, director of training at the Beijing campus, the three building blocks of the program are health and safety training, soft skills and specialized skills. Free training is funded by union dues and all apprentices must be union members.

Even after nearly three decades of experience as a carpenter, Eash remains impressed with the variety of skills apprentices can acquire in the Beijing factory. He returned to school for refresher training in scaffold construction and noted that the apprenticeship program includes training in bridge construction, scaffold construction, interior systems, finish carpentry, concrete carpentry and driving piles.

“There is so much to know if you decide to become an apprentice carpenter,” Eash said. “You will be shocked at how much knowledge you gain in a few years.”

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While Hart is impressed with the level of knowledge the instructors have in the classroom and their ability to pass that knowledge on to apprentices, his greatest satisfaction so far has come from participating in a project with Hein Construction. Having helped build a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Bloomington, he took his family there for a meal.

“My kids are 7, 8 and 10, and they were like, ‘Dad, did you really build this?'” He recalls. “It was the coolest thing.”

Swegle estimated that there are 450 apprentices currently enrolled in the Beijing campus four-year training program, and around 100 new apprentices enter the program each year. The program provides education and hands-on experience in carpentry, flooring and millwright jobs. The curriculum of the program is constantly expanding because the nature of the skilled trades is constantly changing.

“Everything we do here is done on the job site,” Swegle said. “We have to keep our apprentices up to date.

Apprentices take a stair-building course at the Beijing campus of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice and Training Program on November 30, 2021. The training center offers several practical situations for students to practice carpentry.

Are the skilled trades schools back?

For the past 20 years, high school students have considered skilled trades training as a high school option, according to Davidson. But he believes that has changed in recent years – and evidence of local growth can be seen in the new construction of an annex at the facilities of the Mid-America Regional Carpenters Council’s apprenticeship and training program. in Beijing.

“We needed a bigger facility to accommodate all of the people we’re bringing in,” Swegle said. “In addition, we had to expand to expand the rooms because of (physical distancing protocols related to COVID-19). “

Swegle expects the 15,000 square foot annex to be operational by fall 2022, giving the facility a total of 50,000 square feet of training space. In addition to offering the possibility of accommodating more apprentices, the annex will allow the Beijing campus to expand its curriculum. With the emergence of solar and renewable energy options, the campus will offer courses aimed at keeping apprentices up to date with developments in these areas.

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“Our new 15,000 square foot annex will train the next generation of skilled carpenters and millwrights in Beijing and surrounding communities,” said Gary Perinar, executive secretary-treasurer of the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council. “Our members have been an integral part of building the central Illinois landscape for decades, and we will continue this valued partnership for years to come. I can say without a doubt that we provide our members with the best training in the country. This new annex will make union contractors in Beijing and surrounding communities more productive and profitable by getting jobs done correctly, on time and on budget.

More information about the Mid-America Regional Carpenters Council Apprenticeship and Training Program is available at chicap.org

Milton S. Rodgers