MATTOON — Cory Sharp has been a journeyman with the UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 149 for 14 years. The opportunity to work in the trades, he says, was one of his best decisions.
“It’s provided a great living, and it’s given me the tools to live the life I want,” said Sharp. “I’m pretty happy with my choice.”
Sharp, originally from Neoga, applied to be an apprentice with the union in 2007. The five-year program put him to work full-time and sent him to school in Savoy, over an hour’s drive away.
“I knew that I was going to have to travel to go to school,” said Sharp. “It was a very informative five years to go through that, and then a lot of on-the-job experience as you go through that five-year apprenticeship.”
Sharp now works with A&R Mechanical Contractors.
Apprenticeships, said Kevin Sage, business agent for UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 149, are a good alternative to expensive college educations for one main reason: the programs don’t put students into debt.
“I think what we do is, it’s life changing for people to get into the apprenticeship,” said Sage. “I think it’s not just life changing for them, but it’s life-changing for generations to come.
“It’s nothing out of your pocket, you’re actually paying for it as you work,” said Sage. “We expect people to work their career for 30 or 40 years, and that whole time they’re paying every hour — a little bit of money goes into this fund. So that’s how you repay back what you got as an apprentice for the training.”
Apprentices can even make additional money as they work.
“Throughout the course of the five years, these apprentices will make a quarter of a million dollars,” said Josh Sapp, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146.
IBEW currently has 19 practicing apprentices split up between their two programs, said Sapp. These programs include their inside wireman, which is what most people think of as electrical work, and their telecommunications program, which works with alarm, telephone, computer, and other similar systems.
Last year, both unions had over 150 applicants for a little over a dozen positions in their individual programs from several counties.
Plumbers and Pipefitter’s Local 149’s jurisdiction spans Coles, Cumberland, Effingham, Jasper, Ford, and Champaign counties, as well as half of Piatt County. Its main office and training center is in Savoy, with another office in Effingham.
IBEW Local 146 covers Coles, Christian, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Effingham, Fayette, Macon, Montgomery, Moultrie, Piatt and Shelby counties.
“When we look for somebody, we look for people who really want to be an electrician, not somebody who just looks at the pay at the end of the day,” said Sapp.
Both unions offer training centers, offer resources and classes to teach students specific skills they will need on the job. They also held the union members keep up with changes in each industry.
And there have been a lot of changes, says Sage.
“When I got in, they were still doing things the ‘old school’ way,” said Sharp. “Things were usually more hand-drawn.”
Now, apprentices need to learn digital modeling and use tools like iPads to stay current.
It has been rough shift for many of the older journeymen, says Sharp.
The COVID-19 pandemic further increased this move to utilizing online tools, so apprentices now are learning even more of the technological side of the job, said Sage.
“This has actually helped us move away from having students buy hard-copy books,” said Sapp.
The toughest part about the pandemic for IBEW was finding the space to social-distance.
“The main thing we gathered from going through the pandemic is that we need more space.”
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September 3, 2021 at 04:20PM