What does it take to make more than $26,000 a year straight out of high school and perhaps more than $55,000 a year five years later?
Learn a skilled trade working in sheet metal, Upper Valley Career Center students were told when they visited Sheet Metal Workers Local 24 Thursday in a presentation tied to National Apprenticeships Week.
Qualified workers who can skillfully fabricate and weld sheet metal for construction sites, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning jobs and more are in high demand, said Eugene Frazier, training director for the local’s apprenticeship program.
Right now, Frazier’s program has just 54 students. But he said he could easily take 100 more — and find good jobs for all those who stick with the program.
“Right now, we’re in such an upturn cycle, it’s unreal,” Frazier said. “Huge demand.”
Frazier and apprenticeship coordinators are telling students they have options beyond college — options that don’t involve years of student debt and an uncertain path beyond a degree that employers may or may not appreciate.
Gabriel Serna, 19, a Troy High School graduate, works as a welder for KSM Metal Fabrication, just 13 minutes from where he lives.
Serna said he makes more than $13 an hour and gets a raise every six months — and his professional training was free. Student debt won’t be a problem for him.
The work is challenging, Serna acknowledged. But it’s reliable, and he said he’s surrounded by people he respects.
“I like to weld,” Serna said. “I like to show up to work. I like my benefits.”
“Gabriel has a huge jump on anyone who walks in my door,” Frazier said.
The work isn’t for every one, Frazier admits. Those afraid of heights probably should look elsewhere. Shops can be hot in the summer and construction sites can be cold. Paid vacations may not be an offered benefit.
But those who can weather the work may find themselves in a rewarding career, trade advocates say.
So why don’t more students apply?
“Here’s the thing: I think there’s a stigma,” said Tony Trapp, apprenticeship coordinator for Upper Valley Career Center in Troy.
There’s a stubborn idea that vocational or career center students somehow aren’t capable of college study, Trapp said. Perhaps young people simply need more time to explore their options, he added.
But Trapp said he has students who haven’t yet graduated making $17,000 a year working part-time.
“I just got out of high school, and I’m getting some big checks,” Serna said.