After two years of community college, Nick Boggs now knows what he wants: To learn a trade.
The 20-year-old from Abingdon, Illinois, came to a recent IowaWorks apprentice job fair in Davenport with his mother Sandi Boggs, to learn more about becoming an apprentice in one of the skilled trade professions that include carpentry, electric, plumbing and pipefitting, bricklaying and insulation.
“I am just looking. I am open-minded,” he said. “I don't want to pay for college and I think the wages are pretty nice.”
His mother agrees.
“I think it is great,” she said.
So do many already working in the trades.
There is a concern locally and nationally that as baby boomers retire from these trades, the number of younger people replacing them will not meet the needs of the marketplace. In some places, that already is the case.
“We did a study in 2014 and 55 percent of carpenters were eligible to retire,” said Bill Lehmann, executive director of the Carpenters Training Center of the Quad-Cities. “We are seeing more and more carpenters staying a little longer than before. I do know nationally there is a concern about shortages of all trades.”
Jerry Lack, executive director of the Tri-City Building & Construction Trades Council, said the larger trades, like carpenters, plumbers and electricians, are doing better in the area in terms of having enough workers.
“Some of the smaller crafts are struggling, like floor covering, bricklayers, roofers, cement masons," Lack said. "But the larger trades seem to get a lot of applicants and seem to grow more.”
Lack said they are getting many people in their upper 20s and early 30s and many who have served in the military and now are seeking civilians job opportunities.
“In many cases, people can make more money than if you have a college degree,” he said. “And they have good retirement packages.”
Mike Ellison, training director for the Quad-City Electrical Center, Moline, said they currently have 180 apprentices in their five-year program. It includes class time and on-the-job training. After five years, apprentices are deemed journeyman electricians and will make $34.50 per hour.
“The last two years, we have had some good construction work. There has been pretty steady construction and we are doing well,” he said. “Nobody is laid off now."
Matt Lienen, training director for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 25, said they have 185 apprentices in their five-year program. Journeyman wages there are $40 per hour.
He said he is among those concerned with possible shortages, because college is the first and only choice for many young people.
“The problem is, many moms and dads do not want little Johnny or little Susie to do apprentice programs. They want them to go to college,” Lienen said. “And it is a very good option.”
The electrical field has been a very good option for Jessica Rummery of Moline. Rummery, 29, is married with two children. She received an associates degree and then worked several jobs, including as a nurse's assistant and waitress.
One day while waiting tables, she talked to some construction workers who told her about the apprenticeship program. And she signed up.
She is in her second year as an apprentice electrician, working for Tri-City Electric.
“I couldn't be happier,” she said. “I love what I do. There is something new every day. Everybody has been very encouraging.”
She also offered some advice for high school graduates.
“Before you go to college, at least look into it,” Rummery said. “It has been so nice to be able to learn something and get paid while you do it. To many, it may seem like a male job, but it can be for women as well.”