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OpEd: The Building & Construction Trades Then & Now

April 15 2008

OpEd: The Building & Construction Trades Then & Now
By David McCoy, Executive Director, New Mexico Sheet Metal Contractors Association

Thirty years ago the building and construction trades were among the top twenty most desired occupations in the United States. Today, the desire has dropped significantly; ranking tremendously low, near 250 on the list.

What has caused this overwhelming decline? As aspiring trade generations grow older, various cultural values and expectations are changing, causing upcoming generations to pursue other occupations. With a strong emphasis on higher education in our country, many people have been lead away from vocational careers.

The misconception that stands regarding this education craze is that people do not realize the fact that trade apprenticeship programs require four to five years of applied classroom instruction - which is equivalent to the time it takes to obtain a bachelor’s degree. The only difference is that students in apprenticeship programs are given opportunities to apply what they learn as they are learning it.

Traditional college curriculums offer students about 90 percent theory and about 10 percent application (if they are motivated enough to pursue an internship in their field). In contrast, trade apprenticeship programs teach 10 percent theory and 90 percent practical application. These programs give students the opportunity to develop and apply skills in a real world setting, while being paid on the job (not to mention their entire education being paid for by the industry).

Carpentry dates back thousands of years, even prior to the B.C. time period. In fact, one of the most famous journeyman carpenters was Jesus Christ himself. The term journeyman dates back in history from when craftsman would journey from place to place to each job. These learned trades have been perfected throughout the years, which has been implemented into curriculums taught through these apprenticeship programs.

Today, apprentices in the Sheet Metal Worker Program learn mathematics, pattern development and layout, computer drafting, blueprint reading, HVAC systems and design, shop fabrication, filtration, indoor air quality and other essential industry specialties. Once the program is complete, students earn journeyman status, in which they become experts in the field and their starting pay is doubled.

Trade apprenticeships provide a pathway to a rewarding career in the building and construction trades. There are a wide variety of career choices available to fit many interests, such as plumbing and pipefitting, electrical and sheet metal. The hope is that through awareness, individuals will be inspired to pursue rewarding careers in this industry. Students are able to develop valuable skills through building and construction industry programs that can be utilized anywhere in the world.

Chris: Career Transformer

"I am the kind of person who will take something apart just to put it back together again."


Journeyman Electrician

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