Union apprentice program makes for better carpenters

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Exploring the
Carpenters Union

This is the third installment of an advertorial series on the United Brotherhood of Carpenters running this week in the Post-Tribune. Thursday’s installment will chronicle the experiences two Northwest Indiana women carpenters had being Sisters in the Brotherhood.

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Inside a one-story building on North Union Street in Hobart, men and women from seven counties in Northwest Indiana are learning the skills that will help them secure desirable, good-paying jobs from highly trained instructors.

The Hobart location is one of several Indiana campuses of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters training centers.

It is here that carpenter and millwright hopefuls fill out applications and take a test to determine their abilities in basic math, observation, locating and teamwork — all essential skills needed in the workplace, said Ron Simko, area training coordinator with the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship and Training Fund.

It is here that those who achieve Level 4 in all four tested areas are accepted into the program and are set up in an area local, spend four weeks a year for 4 ½ years as an apprentice learning the skills needed on the job in an environment similar to what they experience with the companies for whom they work the other 48 weeks of the year.

And it is here that journeymen carpenters can return to further their knowledge in the field by learning new, up-to-date methods.

A select few

Drawn by a journeyman carpenter’s salary of $35.42 an hour plus such desirable benefits as health insurance, a pension and annuity, Simko said the last test drew 260 applicants and the previous test drew 330 applicants. Of that number, 30 were accepted the first time and another 20 in the second testing period, he said.

“Some don’t show for the test. Some don’t pass. Some don’t get invited,” said Simko, who added that all applicants must bring in their proper documents within two weeks.

“This is to see if they follow directions,” he said. Those who don’t aren’t invited to the test.

Simko said people can retest in areas they don’t pass the first time around. Others drop out, Simko said, citing a multitude of reasons.

“Apprentices need to follow a set of standards. If we say you need to be here 40 hours a week, you need to be here 40 hours. They can’t use their cell phones here. Contractors won’t let them take them on a job site; it’s too much down time,” Simko said.

“We want the classes to mimic a job site as much as possible,” he said, pointing out that those attending classes are expected to dress as if they are on the job and have their tools with them.

“You will have to work hard to earn those benefits and pay the union provides,” he said.

Various paths to apprenticeship

Mike Garcia, a 25-year-old third-year apprentice from Hobart, doesn’t mind the hard work and discipline involved in the program. He said it is providing apprentices with all the training they need to be productive and work safely.

“One of the best things is they push safety. You watch each others’ backs,” said Garcia, who made his way to the program through a pre-apprentice program in which he was introduced to different trades.

“I really liked the work. I was one of two guys picked to be a first-year apprentice,” said Garcia, who is doing concrete work at the BP modernization project with employer Superior Construction and who is the first apprentice to hold an office in Local 1005. He is a warden.

Josh Otto, a 25-year-old Griffith father of two, took a different route to get to the union. After spending one year in college and four years in the Army, one of which was on duty in Afghanistan, Otto joined the union through the Helmets to Hardhats program. This allowed him to start as a first-year apprentice instead of a pre-apprentice and gives him a 10 percent higher rate of pay than other apprentices.

Simko said those in the Helmets to Hardhats program also don’t have to go through the normal testing and interview process.

Otto said he entered the program because he knew he needed to make money for his family of four. He has since found he enjoys building scaffolding, which is what he is doing at the BP plant through his employer, Solid Platforms.

“I would definitely recommend others go through the program. They teach you everything to do your job. You really learn a lot, including tips on how to use a tool and techniques that make for a better craftsman,” Otto said.

“We’re highly trained, safety trained and drug-free. And we make a decent living for our families,” added Garcia.

Provided by Custom Media Solutions, for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters