College isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK.
That was the message on Tuesday afternoon at the Porter County Career Center, where an apprenticeship fair showed region students options in the skilled labor fields.
“This is kind of the perfect time of year to be exposing kids to what they can plan to do after high school,” said Jon Groth, principal and director of the Porter County Career Center. “A lot of our kids are looking at college or the military or apprenticeship programs, and we try to bring all of those connections in here. They’ve got all these different options for when they leave high school and that’s not too far away now.”
Just about four months separate the Class of 2014 from graduation. The goal on Tuesday was to show those students some of the options that are available after high school.
Apprenticeships and skilled labor unions have been given an undeserved stigma since the “Work smarter, not harder” campaigns in the 1970s, said Kevin Comerford of the Construction Advancement Foundation. The CAF’s mission is to show high schoolers and other young adults the attractive side of the construction trades.
“I remember sitting in my high school counselor’s office and seeing those [Work smarter, not harder] posters on the walls,” Comerford said. “The universities were trying to attract more students and it turned a lot of people off to the construction trades. People say [skilled labor] isn’t a career, but it is a career.”
Comerford said construction trades aren’t the right fit for people who aren’t willing to be reliable and work hard, but he mentioned high wages, benefits, and a retirement pension as incentives for the career choice. He added that in many of the construction trades, once journeyman status is achieved after five years as an apprentice, skilled laborers receive an Associate’s degree from Ivy Tech.
Also presenting to students were two electricians unions, one plumbers union, and one mechanics union. More than 10 booths were expected at the fair, but foul weather in parts of the region wreaked havoc on travel plans and forced many to cancel appearances.
One presenter who experienced the early morning snowstorm but still made it to present was Louie Longhi of Mechanics Local 701. Longhi said he experienced whiteout conditions during his drive from the west side of Chicago.
Despite issues with the weather, Groth was glad the Porter County Career Center was able to host the apprenticeship fair.
“I really want every [high school student] to walk across that stage and get that diploma with a plan in place as to what happens next,” Groth said. “This is certainly a viable option for these guys. You’re 22 or 23 years old, you’re making those full wages, you’ve got an Associate’s degree and you’ve got no college debt. And you’ve got a skill that is desirable anywhere you go.”