Construction sector embraces apprentices

BY Gregory Seay

Photo | HBJ File
Photo | HBJ File
Construction-building trades have long relied on apprenticeships to develop and retain skilled carpenters, masons, steelworkers and pipefitters.
Connecticut, like many other states, is experiencing a shortage of carpenters, brick masons, steelworkers, electricians, heating, air conditioning and ventilation installers, and other residential-construction skilled tradespeople.

And, as it has partnered with its manufacturers to create and enhance skills development through apprenticeship training, Connecticut's labor overseer offers an ongoing apprenticeship development program to the building trades.

Connecticut's building-trades employment routinely oscillates, according to the season and often in step with the state and national economies, observers say.

The 2008 near-global financial collapse, and the subsequent U.S. Great Recession greatly eroded demand for new homes and buildings here and in other states.

The result was "you lost a generation of workers entering into the construction field," says Ellington home builder Eric Santini, who is president of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Central Connecticut.

Filling that construction-skills gap will take time, but the state Department of Labor says such training is underway in both the public and private sectors.

According to Todd Berch, who is the state Department of Labor's apprenticeship manager, there are between 5,000 and 5,500 men and women enrolled in two- to four-year construction apprentice training programs. Those who successfully complete the training, Berch said, are then eligible to apply to take the state's journeymen licensing examination.

Many of the state's manufacturing and construction apprenticeship-enrollees got their exposure in the state's vocational-technical high schools and will continue to be one of the biggest sources of construction apprentices. On top of those, all of the state's leading building-trades unions offer apprenticeship training programs, authorities say.

Private building contractors, too, are eligible to offer apprentice training in their shops, as long as they first register with DOL, Berch said.

"If any company wants to have an apprenticeship program, they need to start one," he said.

Plainville commercial interior contractor Melissa Sheffy says she has four apprentices and two pre-apprentices — about the same count as in recent years — on her staff at Network Interiors LLC.

"I pay for my apprentices for their four-year training because I believe in education," said Sheffy, Network Interiors' owner-president. "It just makes sense.''

Sheffy says she regularly plies friends and family, seeking referrals of qualified young people who want a construction career. Southington High School, too, refers candidates to Sheffy whom she helps place with other construction contractors.

"I find the best way I get people is through referrals,'' Sheffy said.

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