Pre-apprenticeship program builds skills, prepares youth for trades

Garrett Locatelli helps Yahir Reasiles work on bending a conduit. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Special promotional content provided by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County

Students across greater Madison continue their journey to learn more about a career in the trades as they got a chance to hear more about work as an electrician and trade unions last night.

A dozen students from greater Madison high schools attending the Dane County Boys and Girls Club’s Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, through the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center, got an opportunity to continue exploring the trades Thursday evening. The students, who’ve been attending the program at the MRWC every evening for nearly six weeks, headed over to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 159, 5303 Fen Oak Dr., to hear from electricians and union members Pablo Baxter and Garrett Locatelli about their journey into the trades, the importance of unions, how to become an electrician and earning potential.

Baxter and Locatelli have both found that the trades have been a great career path for them both professionally and financially — but they stress that it’s not an easy ride. The two try to be as transparent as possible with the students by laying out the rigors behind education, apprenticeships and daily work.

“When we talk about our apprenticeship program, the two core components of it are being five years long, and that broken down into 8,000 hours of in the field experience, but additionally, over 1,000 hours of classroom education and training,” Baxter said.

Pablo Baxter demonstrates how to bend conduit. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Baxter, who earned a bachelor’s in marketing before deciding to transition into the trades, let students know the rigorous journey despite common myths about the trades being an easy ride.

“I’ll say as a holder of a baccalaureate degree and a few associate degrees, some of the coursework in my apprenticeship rivaled the coursework in my bachelor studies,” Baxter said. “Society might have a cliche image of a tradesman as some guy who couldn’t make it in any other industry, so they fall back on this.”

The two also stressed the importance of being in a union. Baxter and Locatelli gave students a run-down of union benefits, from insurance, higher pay, better workplace conditions, job security and retirement.

After students heard about being an electrician, they got the chance to get their hands dirty with a practical exercise. Students were tasked with bending a conduit, a metal tubing that houses wires, to a specific angle.

Students measured where to bend the conduit with the goal of trying to make a clean, 90-degree bend using a conduit bender. Students learned that the task wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

“It was measuring, because there’s two different ways of doing it and I got them mixed up. Eventually, I did do it and I actually did a pretty good job,” said Akilahaw Kins, a student at Sun Prairie East.

Kins has been with the program exploring the trades to get a practical sense of how buildings are made. She hopes to become an interior designer but wants to get knowledge of processes under her belt before she does.

Yahir Reasiles, a student at Vel Phillips Memorial High School, learned that the work may be straightforward in some regards, but it takes time to build up the skills behind a career in the trades.

“I know [electricians] obviously are going to be different from other apprenticeships, but it all kind of combines into the same skills set. You need to use a level, a tape measure, know algebra,” Realises said.

Realises is currently gravitating towards carpentry as a trade after a previous learning session in the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program.

The students are almost done with the program and are set to graduate next Friday, January 26 at the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center, 5215 Verona Rd, Fitchburg. Students will receive their certificates, hear from guest speakers and attend a special presentation from partners of the program.