Most typical comprehensive high schools never expose students to career opportunities outside the traditional academic track. This thinking completely overlooks the many lucrative career paths out there for young adults who do not choose the standard trajectory. SkillsBuild, a six-week summer exploratory of the trades held at the New England Laborers Training Camp in Hopkinton, MA, aims to change that.

In the course of  the six-week project-based program, young men and women are exposed to general construction, OSHA standards, and the use of tools including ladders, jack hammers, and cutting torches. During a full week of concrete work, students employ construction framework training and concrete pour lessons to work on a community service project. Combine the hands-on experience with an emphasis on soft skills, and the graduates are apprenticeship-ready upon graduation. Seven of this year’s class already have interviews set up with local trade unions in September. For many, it’s the chance of a lifetime at a fulfilling and financially rewarding career.

The recent class of 19 graduates was the largest class in the program’s history, and counted three young women in its ranks including Kelly Juarez, who told those assembled, “This program changed my life. I feel like I finally found a career.” Kelly began the program thinking she would like to enter the Carpenters Union like her husband, Eddie, a 2016 graduate of SkillsBuild, but ultimately chose the Laborers Union. Having worked in the field, Eddie came back to address the graduates telling them, “I took what I learned here and used it in the field. First off, never be on time, be 15 or 20 minutes early because there’s lots of competition out there. This place gave me a great start at a great career. Stay focused.” Another graduate, a former Marine, had praise for the instructors, “They took real pride in teaching us. I feel fully prepared for the workforce.”

These young adults are entering the trades at a time when retirements are creating jobs at an unprecedented rate. Estimates are that 31 million skilled trade jobs will be vacant by 2020 due to Boomer retirements. These are not low-paying positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, on average carpenters earn $22.49 per hour, construction equipment operators $23.61, plumbers and pipefitters $26.49, and construction managers s$26.88. The trades offer young adults an avenue to a sustainable wage, and programs like SkillsBuild support the pipeline for employers to hire trained workers.

Partnerships for a Skilled Workforce, Inc. is pleased to support SkillsBuild and its partners with federal funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. Partners: New England Laborers’ Training Trust Fund, Metro South/West ETA, Inc., the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Building Pathways, Inc., and the Building Trades Training Directors Association.