Construction trades continue to recruit, find jobs for apprentices |

Construction trades continue to recruit, find jobs for apprentices

John Seelmeyer

Recruiters for the apprenticeship programs of construction trade unions in northern Nevada walk a tightrope these days.

They want to make sure that they’re bringing on enough apprentices to meet the needs of today’s construction market, no matter how slow it might appear, and they want to make sure that the construction trades could react to the arrival of big new jobs.

They need to ensure, too, that the union construction trades continue to develop a cadre of skilled apprentices who will become the highly skilled journey-level workers for decades to come.

But having felt the pain of the downturn like everyone else in the construction, development and real estate sectors building-trade unions have the yips about enrolling too many apprentices who would end up on the unemployment lines if construction collapses again.

The headline news, however, is this: Despite the massive loss of construction jobs in the state another 3,300 lost statewide in the first six months of this year alone the building-trade unions still are recruiting apprentices and getting them to work.

It’s nothing like the pre-recession days when as many as 15,000 apprentices were working in the building trades statewide. But recruitment hasn’t gone away, either.

The 10 building trades unions that have banded together to create the Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association in Reno have recruited 65 apprentices this year for trades ranging from heavy-equipment operation to plumbing to painting.

In fact, all but one of the 10 unions that participate in the association are actively recruiting apprentices this year, says Bob Alessandrelli, who oversees the group’s recruiting. The one exception so far has been the Iron Workers Local 118 in Reno.

And some of the unions, Alessandrelli says, are adding a dozen or more apprentices this year.

Last year, every participating union but the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades local added apprentices.

(Other trade unions that participate in the apprenticeship council include those representing construction craft laborers, electricians, plasterers and cement masons, plumbers and pipefitters, sheet meal workers, NV Energy workers, operating engineers, and stationary engineers.)

Randy Canale, apprenticeship coordinator for Local 350 of the plumbers and pipefitters union and president of the Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, says the unions are able to keep apprentices working steadily despite the near-halt of new construction.

Renovation jobs, big public works projects such as construction at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and a smattering of work in the green-energy industry provide employment for apprentices and journeymen alike.

Also creating opportunities for apprentices, he says, is a steady stream of retirements of union workers from the Baby Boom generation, a stream that hasn’t slowed appreciably with the onset of the recession.

“We have retirement plans for our people,” Canale says. “They are able to retire and to have a good life in retirement.”

Those retirements put some pressure on the trades unions to recruit apprentices today, no matter how slow the construction market might be, so that they have a cadre of highly skilled journey-level workers to meet the demand as the markets rebound.

Alessandrelli says the economic weakness of northern Nevada is both a strength and a challenge to recruitment of construction apprentices.

On one hand, apprenticeships pay a passable starting wage about $15 an hour for electricians, about $17 for a plasterer and the combination of on-the-job-training and 240 hours of classroom education is a big drawing card.

“They’re not getting jobs; they’re getting careers,” Alessandrelli says. Workers who complete apprentice training through the building-trades unions can expect earnings of about $25 an hour.

On the other hand, even unemployed folks looking for careers read the newspapers, and they know how about the tough times that construction workers have faced in Nevada.

The upshot: A much-more focused recruiting efforts.

Not long ago, Alessandrelli was a fixture at nearly every high school career day throughout the region.

Today, he works closely with programs such as JOIN Inc., the nonprofit that provides personalized employment services to residents of northern Nevada.

Because the unions no longer are recruiting apprentices in large groups, Alessandrelli says he can afford recruit one-by-one or through small-group meetings.