Trade Training
A roadmap to kickstarting, accelerating careers in construction
By Danny Kreilkamp
Man cutting wires
lippyjr | iStock

or young people eager to begin their careers, or more seasoned professionals simply interested in a change of scenery, the construction industry offers jobseekers a number of different programs and training opportunities to gain required skills and education. Though the path to forging a career in this industry can be winding and, at times, somewhat convoluted. Apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, vocational colleges, labor unions, company-specific certifications—what do they all mean? And where do you begin?

When it comes to trade training, one size does not fit all; determining the option that best suits prospective construction workers should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Instead of a straight line, with point A being the beginning of an individual’s journey and point B signaling the end, imagine the options available to aspiring construction professionals as a branch—with different limbs representing programs of varying structure, length, and requirement. And while the following options aren’t the only routes to a long, lucrative career in construction, they’re a great place to start.

Introductory and Pre-Apprenticeship Training
For those still deciding which branch of the construction trade they might be interested in pursuing, introductory and pre-apprenticeship training is a great way to explore their options without breaking the bank. The various training programs offered through Alaska Works Partnership (AWP) are particularly affordable—in fact, 100 percent of student fees are covered by the nonprofit. Befitting of the organization’s name, AWP teams with local organizations such as the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Nine Star Education & Employment Services, and a host of other entities to deliver training to Alaska’s construction industry.

“One of our goals is that we want to make sure all of our youth know that apprenticeship is a great alternative to college before they graduate,” says Program Manager Tiffany Caudle.

“Every training we do is completely free—people don’t have to provide anything. We provide the materials, the safety gear… all people have to do is apply, be selected, and show up,” she continues, noting the lack of any income stipulations.

AWP boasts several different programs, some catering exclusively to women (Women in the Trades), some catering to ex-military (Helmets to Hardhats), but the largest and most popular program it offers is the Alaska Construction Academies training.

Caudle explains that due to the popularity of AWP’s trainings, the organization often receives two or three times the number of applications than there are available spots, especially with the added restrictions surrounding gatherings and COVID-19.

But the application process is simple: interested parties apply online; wait to be contacted by an AWP representative; are interviewed; undergo a ranking process; and then wait for placement.

Most of the programs follow a typical Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 40-hour-a-week schedule. But Caudle notes that the organization also offers evening and weekend courses to cater to those who work during the day. “We have found that most people who are really serious about getting into construction are able to take a week off to train even if they’re working,” she says. “Which is why we try to let people know a minimum of three weeks in advance if they have been selected for a class.”

Almost all of AWP’s programs are registered with the state and designated as pre-apprenticeships. “We do introductory training, we don’t do advanced training—we’re not steppin’ on any paid toes,” she points out. “But if they do our training and a full add-on, at 120 hours they can get a pre-apprenticeship stamp which makes them more employable or more likely to get into an apprenticeship program.”

Following the completion of a training program, AWP also provides its students with ongoing case management and placement services. Doubling as a case manager, Caudle has witnessed firsthand the impact on students who complete the program.

“We had this student who was homeless, and we got him a job after training with this non-union company in the Valley. He actually lives with all these different Iditarod people who told him, ‘Hey If you take care of my dogs—that’s your rent.’ He has a job, a place to sleep, and he’s doing great. We’ve helped a lot of people—we’re the do-gooders,” she laughs.

“At any given time, there’s probably 100 to 200 job openings in the State of Alaska. The challenge we run into is the shortage of drivers… What we’re running into is a graying workforce: people are getting older, they’re retiring, they don’t want to do it anymore—and a lot of people don’t see truck driving as a viable career future when it really is.”
Pat Rose, Business Development Director, NIT
Often dubbed the “four-year degree without the debt,” apprenticeships are attractive options for those interested in learning a skill while pocketing some cash in the process.

Before diving into the details, it’s worth noting that apprenticeships can be pursued in both union and non-union formats. There are a few key differences between the two, and the training coordinator for Alaska Ironworkers, Jon Woodard, sheds some light on why a person might choose one over the other.

“A large differentiating factor is the benefits and the union representation that you get [with a union],” Woodard explains, noting that while the pay scale between union and non-union work tends to be similar, federally funded or state funded projects using non-union contractors are required to adhere to the pay scale set by union standards.

Woodard and Alaska Ironworkers are part of the Alaska Apprenticeship Training Coordinators Association. “[It] is basically an association of all the union construction trades, and we work together to make sure that we all have quality programs,” Woodard says.

“With the aging population in the trades, we don’t have as many young people joining the construction trades—and we want to make sure we offer that opportunity, that it’s not just college and military. We want to make sure young people understand the importance of the construction trades as a very promising and well-paying career.”

Another important distinction, Woodard believes, is that union and non-union trades don’t always compete for the same work in Alaska. “They [non-union trades] typically go after different market segments like home or residential construction rather than the heavy industrial that we go after.”

Despite some of these differences, Woodard says that non-union apprenticeships are often modeled after their union counterparts.

Age, education, occupational credentials, and experience are all factors apprenticeship programs consider when selecting applicants.

“And some trades have additional requirements such as a math exam or the WorkKeys test,” he adds. “Usually most apprenticeships require a valid driver’s license and a resume detailing education and work history.”

The programs are competitive, Woodard admits, due in part to the fact that different programs can only bring in so many positions per year—especially some of the specialty trades.

“It depends on if the union local is divided. There is a northern region and a southern region so you have that factor as well. Like the iron workers, for example, we are statewide, but we’re a specialty trade so we only bring in a few per year. It’s kind of the nature of the work.”

“After the first year—or actually I call them first hour apprentices—because the first hour they go to work after three weeks of training they get 60 percent of scale and that’s pretty good.”
Jon Woodard, Training Coordinator, AATCA
The length of an apprenticeship program varies from trade to trade. The term can be as short as two years or as long as five, with most programs typically landing in the four-year range. For example, Woodard says, a four-year apprenticeship can be 6,000 hours—1,500 hours per year of combined work and classroom experience. And for certain union apprenticeships registered with the Department of Labor, there are additional requirements for classroom and hands-on training hours which can be around 150 to 200 hours per year, minimum.

As for pay, apprentices will generally earn a percentage of the journeyman pay scale. “The starting pay rate is typically 50 percent,” he says, noting that as an ironworker that number is bumped up to 60 percent. “After the first year—or actually I call them first hour apprentices—because the first hour they go to work after three weeks of training they get 60 percent of scale and that’s pretty good.”

“Every training we do is completely free—people don’t have to provide anything. We provide the materials, the safety gear… all people have to do is apply, be selected, and show up.”
Tiffany Caudle, Program Manager
Alaska Works Partnership
Paid Training
Interested in earning more than $60,000 per year after only a few weeks of CDL training? Perhaps consider leveraging the multitude of programs offered by industry training experts like Northern Industrial Training. These are paid, intensive programs that equip students with the necessary tools and training to step into high-paying roles immediately upon graduation.

While the company offers programs ranging from heavy equipment operations to administrative assistance, Business Development Director Pat Rose says truck driving is by far the most popular of its course options. NIT offers a variety of CDL training programs tailored to inexperienced and seasoned truck drivers. But common to all its programs is a notable financial outlay. These programs should be considered an investment in what very often leads to a high paying job, according to the organization.

“Even with what we’re seeing right now, truck driving is still in high demand,” says Rose. “If someone has a CDL, they can find a job pretty quick.”

“At any given time, there’s probably 100 to 200 job openings in the state of Alaska,” he continues. “The challenge we run into is the shortage of drivers… What we’re running into is a graying workforce: people are getting older, they’re retiring, they don’t want to do it anymore—and a lot of people don’t see truck driving as a viable career future when it really is.”

Rose says somebody with no previous experience who enrolls in a NIT truck driving course can begin searching for a job, with confidence, in four to six weeks.

“And it can be shorter. But if you have no experience and you take a four to six week training program, then you have all the skills and license to go into some of those positions,” Rose adds, noting that the six-week program is particularly popular given its national accreditation through the Professional Truck Driving Institute.

And even in an industry that seems destined for automation, Rose feels the state’s unique landscape offers truck drivers a certain degree of immunity.

“One of the challenges we face in Alaska is the different style of driving—we don’t have straight roads. We don’t have easy access to a lot of locations. Someone driving from Fairbanks to the North Slope—that’s an ice road, that’s not really a ‘road,’” he jokes.

Rose says the application process is relatively straightforward, but prospective applicants should be prepared to pass a drug test. “Marijuana is legal in Alaska, but it still isn’t legal federally.”

Safety Training
A dedication to safety isn’t just an expectation for construction workers— it’s a requirement. And for many companies, the skills gained through apprenticeships or vocational schools alone are not enough. The Alaska Safety Alliance (ASA) collaborates with employers to help individuals complete the required training to work in some of Alaska’s most hazardous industries.

Created more than twenty years ago by BP and ConocoPhillips Alaska, ASA is Alaska’s regional nonprofit safety council. The organization manages a variety of workforce development programs, the North Slope Training Cooperative, and other health, safety and environmental training. “Everything we do is designed to provide individuals with the necessary knowledge and credentials to safely work in Alaskan industries,” says ASA Director of Operations Mandy Beaulieu.

For people who have begun their career in construction but are wanting professional development or focused training, ASA is an Accredited Training Sponsor of NCCER. “The National Center of Construction and Education Research is a nationally recognized organization that offers training in more than eighty different construction, oil and gas, mining, and maritime occupations—all industries essential to Alaska,” Beaulieu explains.

For those looking for ‘earn while you learn’ opportunities, ASA recently submitted applications to the US Department of Labor for apprenticeship designation in five areas. Once approved, ASA, along with companies across the United States, will be able to offer vetted and nationally recognized apprenticeship programs for five unique, essential, and high-demand oil and gas pipeline occupations. “The hands-on skills gained in these apprenticeships are highly desirable across all industries. This will be an incredible opportunity for Alaskans wanting to enter any construction trade while building their knowledge and experience.”

No matter the trade, construction workers can expect to be well-versed in new safety training programs as their careers develop. Though the route is up to the trainee, one thing construction professionals can agree on is that theirs is an industry that has fulfilling, well-paying jobs that are available today. And with the right training, the opportunities are there for the taking.