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St. Louis Catholic HS Introduces Students to Careers in Union Construction

Why don’t more follow?

As a proud member of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), the union of construction laborers, I am aware that there are still some career paths outside the college track that will earn you a family-supporting wage. One of the best starts with a union-sponsored apprenticeship in one of the construction trades.

When someone enrolls in a union apprenticeship program, they can expect a combination of classroom education with on-the-job training. Where a college student earns tuition, the apprentice is paid for his or her on-the-job training. And that’s not all – union members receive 100% employer-paid health insurance and a pension to cover them in retirement. (You heard that right, in 2024 America union-side construction workers still have pensions!) And while the work is hard, it’s rewarding; it’s not unusual for a union electrician or plumber to pull down a six-figure salary, especially if they work some overtime during the year.

You would think that Catholic high school guidance counselors and principals would welcome union apprenticeship coordinators with open arms. You would be wrong. I have heard of countless efforts to offer these opportunities to Catholic school students, only to be waved away. Our parents don’t want their kids thinking about alternatives to college, they usually explain.

Now I’m excited to report that I heard about a school that said yes: St. Mary’s in St. Louis.

The initiative was organized by two men who DID appreciate the value of a career in the trades. St. Mary’s alum Jake Hummel (a union electrician who is today the leader of the Missouri AFL-CIO) and St. Mary’s Principal Mike England decided to go one step further than career days and actually set up a pre-apprenticeship program in the building trades to offer as an elective to students.

Interested students received their gear, such as steel-toed shoes and hard hats, participated in the same basic safety training that union construction workers receive, then had an opportunity to visit the training centers run by each trade (e.g. carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers) and try their hand at the work. On graduation they will have a leg up in the competitive process of securing an apprenticeship in the craft of their choice and starting a successful career.

As Catholics we believe that all work has dignity, and should respect those who choose a skilled trade instead of college – including when they are our own children. If your school would like to find out more about introducing students to careers in the building trades, please contact me at [email protected]

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