Several cement mason apprentices receiving on-the-job training while pouring and finishing concrete.

It’s no secret that the nature of employment opportunities is constantly evolving. Although no one knows precisely what the American job landscape will look like ten years from now, one thing is certain–skilled construction trades will continue to offer high quality careers.

The demand and search for skilled labor is a constant concern for construction contractors. Many young adults graduate high school believing their only respectable option is to enroll in college and pursue a 4-year degree. This has led to a relative shortage of qualified individuals to fill the needs of contractors.

The Current Landscape of Construction Employment

Construction companies need an influx of new workers to secure their future. Just 10% of people in the construction trades workforce are under the age of 24, and with experienced workers retiring and labor demand increasing nationwide, the industry is desperate for new employees. By participating in apprenticeship programs, employers can foster a pipeline of new workers, so they can meet staffing needs. People who complete apprentice programs often remain loyal, so the company can retain the workers they train, instead of having to hire outside their business.

Why Employees Take Advantage of Career Opportunities In the Trades

As jobs in many fields require more and more specialist knowledge, many employees are forced to earn a college degree before they can enter the workforce. Add in skyrocketing education costs and the expectation of working in unpaid internships, and college ends up being out of reach of many students.

A job in the trades also offers new employees the chance to make money as they learn on the job. This puts training within financial reach. Once the apprentice completes the program, they have both trade licenses and job references they can use to get full-time jobs. In most cases, they don’t even need to seek a new employer. They simply get promoted within the company they trained with.

How Do Skilled Trade Apprenticeships Work?

The average registered apprentice program includes 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom instruction. In construction, that means learning building codes and other applicable laws in class and passing a state-sanctioned test, while learning building skills at work.

Typically, it takes three to six years to complete a program. However, this isn’t set in stone. Apprentices may delay school to work on more jobs, so it could end up taking longer to become a journey worker.

Pay usually starts at 50% of a journeyman’s wage. As the apprentice improves their skills and works through the program, their pay increases. In most cases, new workers earn more than their college counterparts, who are stuck with odd jobs unrelated to their future careers.

Who Handles Apprenticeship Programs?

Programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, but they aren’t always managed at a federal level. The Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship (OA) manages apprenticeship programs for 25 states, while the other 25 states have state apprenticeship agencies (SAAs) that manage local programs. Locally, apprentice programs are handled by state agencies: ApprenticeOhio in Ohio and PA CareerLink in Pennsylvania.

Apprentice programs are expanding to meet the increasing demand for workers. Even with declines caused by the pandemic, there are 70% more apprenticeships now than there were ten years ago. In that time, the number of completed apprenticeships has increased from 55,000 per year to 82,000 per year.

According to the Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Management Data System (RAPIDS), which measures federal programs, 73% of apprenticeships are in construction, however only 4% of construction workers are active apprentices. Despite massive increases in programs, there’s still plenty of room for growth to bring in the employees the construction industry desperately needs.

Civilians can apply to programs directly and The United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) lets active members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard enter into skilled trade apprenticeships related to their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Unless an MOS is directly combat-related, there’s civilian equivalent training that service members can apply for.

What Specialties Does a Career in the Skilled Trades Cover?

Every commercial construction project requires subcontractors who specialize in a variety of disciplines. Members of The Builders Association partner with Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades to bring new talent into our workforce. Here are some of the trades in which you can pursue a construction career.

  • Bricklayers – These craftspeople lay brick and block, and they also install tile, marble and terrazzo floors.
  • Boilermakers – These workers build hot water systems used in manufacturing facilities and large buildings.
  • Carpenters – These craftspeople construct and repair structures made from wood and other materials.
  • Electricians – These workers install wiring, circuitry and fixtures. They also troubleshoot electrical installations and machinery.
  • Construction Craft – These workers do all the jobs that don’t fit into the major categories. This includes work that uses hand tools, aiding other trade workers, and doing work site cleanup.
  • Cement Masons and Plasterers– These workers handle both cement and plaster used for structures and decoration.
  • Glaziers – These installers cut and fit glass and mirrors used for decoration and building insulation.
  • Insulators – These workers install thermal and fire barriers in walls, floors and ceilings.
  • Iron Workers – These specialists install iron and steel, including rebar for reinforced concrete, metal building supports, and metal structures used in bridges and stadiums.
  • Painters – This is a catch-all category for finishing workers. Along with painting, these workers handle tasks ranging from drywall finishing to sign painting.
  • Operation Engineers – These people run heavy equipment, including cranes, loaders, forklifts and bulldozers.
  • Plumbers – These workers install and repair water and sewage systems.
  • Roofers – These workers waterproof buildings by installing roofing in a way that forms a membrane over the top of the building. This usually involves forming layers of rubber, felt, or hot bitumen to create a water tight, weather resistant seal.
  • Sheet Metal Workers – These workers specialize in sheet metal construction, including exterior walls and ventilation systems.

What Are the Challenges of Pursuing a Career in the Skilled Trades

In 2013, the Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Initiative published the results of an in-depth study called “Apprenticeship Completion and Cancellation in the Building Trades.” Of the apprenticeships started between 2006-2007, only 36% were complete by 2012. Of the remaining participants, 18% were still active, while 46% dropped out of their programs.

Keep in mind that during this survey period, only 22% of community college students completed an Associates degree in 6 years. Apprenticeships have a higher success rate, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In this study, they identified a few key areas where these programs were coming up short.

Some people can’t handle the work environment. Construction can be difficult work, requiring long hours of physical activity in all kinds of weather.

Construction is often pitched as a career path for people who dislike the idea of going to college to earn a 4-year degree. However, it still takes schooling to learn the regulations and basic skills needed and pass licensing exams. If apprentices struggled with high school, or haven’t been in school in years, training can be difficult. In particular, the study singled out a lack of math skills as being a major cause of drop-outs.

Find Qualified, Experienced Contractors for Your Next Commercial Construction Project

The Builders Association represents over 150 reputable contractors across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. These include union contractors and subcontractors specializing in every size and type of job, from repairs and remodeling to complete building projects.

When you hire our members, you’re hiring the best from your community.