“Since day one we’ve been learning.” Boys and Girls Club celebrates Pre-Apprenticeship graduation

Photo by Omar Waheed.

A group of Madison high schoolers graduated from a pre-apprenticeship program last week after getting a chance to explore careers in the trades.

On May 31, the students graduated as the second cohort from the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County’s Pre-Apprenticeship Program. For four months, 18 students made rounds through local trade unions from electricians to sheet metal workers to explore what a career in the trades looks like and a starting point in their post high school plans.

For this round of the program, BGCDC partnered with Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, part of Laborers’ International Union of North America. Kent Miller, president of Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, gave a keynote speech to the graduating class highlighting the important steps students are taking to secure a better future.

“Everything you guys are learning is going to give you more opportunities in the future,” Miller said. “It was always said that you need a two-year or four-year college [degree] to land in the middle class, I was even told that myself.”

Miller, who is a third generation tradesman, was discouraged by his father and grandfather to pursue the trades. He was told that they “Would rather see me in college than dig ditches.”

Miller points at the stigmas of backbreaking work and lack of dignity in being a manual laborer. He said he’s noticed recently a change, with the trades being seen as more dignified, ripe with more opportunities, better pay, benefits and, most importantly, becoming more diverse. He sees trades as now an equitable path for a journey to the middle class.

Kent Miller. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Students throughout the program all had their individual ideas on what they wanted to pursue. Kiki Turvey, a student at West High School, had an initial idea of what she wanted, but changed after cycling through the courses.

“It’s hard to say what I’ve learned because there’s simply so much. Since day one we’ve been learning,” Turvey said. “My personal favorite was green construction. I love green construction and having Rick explain it in a kind and understanding way was definitely one of my favorite courses.”

Turvey found her passion to become an arborist throughout the program. While not one of the trades students went through, she realized that she wanted to pursue something in conservation after her experience with green construction.

Turvey was able to utilize the program and connections to find work in the industry. Instructors, who’ve come to know the students, knew that her plans changed multiple times, but Turvey found support to move forward in conservation. She will be working with Sustain Dane starting this summer.

But finding paths in their lives isn’t all students experience. While learning about sheet metal, students bonded over hunkering down during May’s storms. Yovani Ramirez, a sophomore at Memorial High School, recalled it being one his favorite moments as the unique sounds rang from the storm against the metal.

Ramirez went into the program looking to be an electrician, but after touring through the concrete mason portion of the program, he’s looking to pursue that and is looking for a job this summer.

Students with their first touch in the trades under arm aim to continue the path and look for work over the summer.