One by one Friday, graduates of the inaugural MN Trades Academy stepped up to the podium inside IBEW Local 110’s union hall and offered their three favorite construction crafts.
Welding was a popular choice – not surprisingly, given the teenage demographic – but there was something for every one of the 20 graduates, who spent nine weeks this summer working as paid interns, touring the apprenticeship centers of 16 local Building Trades unions.
In other words, finding a construction craft they like was their summer job.
“Knowing all the trades gives them insight into all the opportunities available out there,” Como Park Senior High shop teacher Bob Prifrel said. “Now it’s up to them to take advantage of it.”
Prifrel led one of two crews of interns participating in the inaugural MN Trades Academy. His consisted of students from the St. Paul and White Bear Lake school districts; another included students from Minneapolis Public Schools.
Interns worked 30 to 35 hours per week and earned $9 per hour. On workdays they bused to local technical colleges and apprenticeship centers for crash courses in various crafts. They also completed the OSHA 10 training.
Although in its first year, MN Trades Academy has been more than a decade in the making. It grew out of forerunner programs like UnderConstruction, a summer program that provided urban youth with work experience on a construction job site.
Launching MN Trades Academy took a great deal of collaboration between the school districts and Building Trades unions, as well as contractors, public agencies and community groups like Greater Twin Cities United Way, all of which provided logistical or funding support.
Organizers say the program is in line for a funding boost that will enable it to increase enrollment next year, creating more summer jobs for young people that, down the road, might spark interest in a career.
So beyond welding, what crafts did the graduates enjoy most?
“My favorite was commercial painting,” Nicholas Eichrodt of Minneapolis said. “I just love how you’ve got to do it specifically right, or you’ve got to do it all over again.”
Austin Fink of St. Paul liked the trip to Operating Engineers Local 49 best. “We got to sit in all the big, heavy machinery that we wanted to, and we learned a little about each one,” he said.
“I like the hands-on experience we got at IBEW, the wiring we did,” Randy Cuate of Minneapolis said. “I also really like math, so it worked out.”
Como Park student Lah Htoo took to crafts like tiling and bricklaying. “You get to make stuff that people will actually see,” he said. “It’s like a work of art.”
Chris Sheffield of St. Paul isn’t afraid of heights. He was the only intern to put the visit to Ironworkers Local 512 at the top of the list.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little,” Sheffield said. “I want to be that guy standing 100 stories up on that high beam, getting to see the whole town.”