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 Regional Council of Carpenters of Central America The 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 the idea of no student loans, no post-graduate debt, and hands-on training in a skilled trade from instructors with hands-on experience attracted him. He graduated about 24 years ago and is now a field superintendent for the Peoria-based construction company. Central Illinois Businesseswhere he had worked as an apprentice and journeyman.
“The instructors were out in the field before, building everything we do,” Eash said. “Then they passed that knowledge on to the members. They had a desire to teach and they really seemed to want the apprentices to become better (carpenters) than themselves.”
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Seth Hart, who is completing his second year in the program, is currently an apprentice with Hein Construction Co. He graduated from Western Illinois University and settled into a job as a warehouse supervisor for the seed corn company – but those seven years started to weigh on him.
“I was stuck on the second shift and was 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 joined.”
Trade schools have traditionally sought to attract new apprentices by offering them a chance to earn a living while they learn rather than paying tuition and racking up student debt. Phil Davidson, director of communications for the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council, said the message resonated more with high school students than it had 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 off, especially when you’re a youngster trying to make your way and get your own home.
What do the apprentices reserve?
After a nine-week pre-apprenticeship, students at the Beijing facility 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 hard skills. Free training is funded by union dues and all apprentices must be unionized.
Even after nearly three decades of experience as a carpenter, Eash remains impressed with the variety of skills apprentices can learn at the Beijing factory. He returned to school for refresher training in scaffolding construction and noted that the apprenticeship program includes training in bridge construction, scaffolding construction, interior systems, carpentry, carpentry concrete and pile driving.
“There’s so much to know if you decide to become an apprentice carpenter,” Eash said. “You will be shocked by all the knowledge you will acquire in a few years.”
While Hart is impressed with the level of knowledge of the instructors and their ability to pass that knowledge on to apprentices, his greatest satisfaction so far comes from his involvement 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 that?'” he recalls. “It was the coolest thing.”
Swegle estimated that there are 450 apprentices currently enrolled in the four-year training program at the Beijing campus, and about 100 new apprentices enter the program each year. The program provides instruction and hands-on experience in carpentry, flooring, and millwright work. 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 site,” Swegle said. “We need to keep our apprentices up to date.”
Are trade schools back?
For the past 20 years, high school students have considered skilled trades training a secondary option, according to Davidson. But he believes that has changed in recent years – and evidence of local growth can be seen in the construction of a new addition to the Carpenters’ Regional Council Apprenticeship and Training Program facility. Central America in Beijing.
“We needed a bigger facility to accommodate all the people we bring in,” Swegle said. “Also, we had to expand to make the rooms bigger because of the (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 program. With the emergence of solar and renewable energy options, the campus will offer courses aimed at keeping apprentices abreast of 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 landscape of central Illinois for several decades, and we will continue this valuable 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 schedule will make unionized contractors in Beijing and surrounding communities more productive and profitable by getting the job done the right way – on time and on budget.
More information about the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council Apprenticeship and Training Program is available at chicap.org