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Apprenticeship Program Growing in Northern Kentucky

The Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky is attempting to fill the gap of construction workers created by the recession.

Thu December 05, 2013 - Midwest Edition
Amanda Vanbenschoten - THE KENTUCKY ENQUIRER

ERLANGER, Ky. (AP) When the recession hit in 2008, the bottom fell out of the housing market virtually overnight. Construction sites became ghost towns. New construction plummeted by 70 percent. Workers found themselves suddenly out of jobs, and many left the industry altogether.

While the economy and the housing market are on the rebound nationally and locally, many of those workers have not returned. The fledgling recovery is stunted by a serious shortage of skilled workers, but the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky is trying to fill that gap.

Its Enzweiler Apprentice Training Program — the oldest private trade school in the nation — is seeing record enrollment and turning out a record number of skilled workers in fields such as carpentry, plumbing, welding, roofing, electrical and remodeling. More than 200 students are enrolled in one of the school’s six programs, and more than 100 of them will hit the streets in May.

“We’re set to graduate over 100 students this year, which is our largest graduating class on record. And still, it’s just a drop in the bucket,’’ said Brian Miller, executive director of the Northern Kentucky HBA.

Miller estimated the region’s commercial, industrial and residential construction industry needs to add 200 jobs each month just to keep up with demand. The housing industry accounts for about a third of that number.

“We’re still at a vast shortage of where we need to be,’’ he said. “It’s affecting our members ... And it’s affecting the price of housing. That’s really what we’re trying to get to: one, is to keep our industry healthy, but also to keep housing affordable.’’

About 95 percent of the trade school’s students are already employed by the time they graduate.

“Our biggest problem with the labor shortage is we don’t graduate anybody who doesn’t have a job already,’’ said Thomas Napier, the program’s director. “Ninety-five percent of our folks are employed when they leave us.’’

Many of them are like Jason Fultz of Independence, a second-year carpentry student. Just 19 years old, he already has a full-time job as an apprentice with Neal Construction, an HBA member.

“The HBA helped me find a job; I’m driving my own company van now,’’ he said.

Fultz considered college, but he’d heard too many stories about college grads who couldn’t find jobs. Besides, the trades are in his blood: as a kid, he’d tag along on jobs with his dad, also a carpenter.

“It’s a really good school,’’ he said. “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have that school.’’

By the time he graduates from the two-year carpentry program in May, Fultz will already have two years of real-world experience under his belt and be eligible to take his journeyman test. He hopes to start his own remodeling and finishing business.

The school’s curriculum is designed to get students like Fultz into the trades more quickly than the normal apprentice process, which can take years. At about $1,100 per year, it’s a steal. Students also receive credit at Gateway Community & Technical College. Students work full-time during the day, earning work hours for the program and a paycheck. They attend classes several nights each week at the HBA office in Erlanger.

Six programs are offered: carpentry, welding, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and remodeling/maintenance. Masonry will be added next year. Each is certified by the state except the welding program, which is aimed at workers in the industry who want to pick up a new skill. Each curriculum is reviewed annually by HBA members and kept up-to-date with the latest building codes. And the instructors are experienced workers in each field; most of them graduated from the trade school themselves.

Graduates are certified by the HBA, and they’re strongly encouraged to take the state licensure test in their chosen field. The school has a 100 percent pass rate for electrical and HVAC graduates.

The trade school’s graduates aren’t required to work in the construction industry, but many of them do — becoming the next generation of workers who Miller and Napier hope revitalize the region’s once-robust housing industry.

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