PORTAGE | High school guidance counselors from across Northwest Indiana participated in a field trip Wednesday to learn more about the building trades industry as a viable career path for students.
The day was sponsored by Portage-based Construction Advancement Foundation, a regional construction trade association with more than 500 affiliated contractor companies.
Kevin Comerford, the foundation's director of education and workforce development, told about 45 counselors the building trades industry is a viable alternative to college.
"We are always looking for the best and brightest minds," he said.
Joe Coar, vice president of Tonn & Blank Construction in Michigan City and a member of the Northwest Indiana Business Roundtable, told counselors that of 18,000 construction workers in Northwest Indiana, half will retire in the next two or three years, opening those jobs to new takers.
The business roundtable is committed to improving construction and maintenance projects in Northwest Indiana. Both it and the CAF have united to focus on education. The groups hope to attract more people — particularly high school students — to the building trades, which they say offer good jobs with great pay.
Guidance counselors, who visited local apprenticeship training centers, toured the sheet metal, ironworkers, carpenters and electrical centers. In addition, the counselors visited a Boyer Construction job site.
Bob Hostinsky, coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 20 in Portage, said the union offers a five-year apprenticeship, which leads to an associate's degree through Ivy Tech Community College.
"We do not want those students who you can't place anywhere else," Hostinsky said.
"We want people who take Advanced Placement classes. Most of our people are extremely tech-savvy. If a high school student is interested in this, they need to take math. Sometimes kids say they will never use the algebra or trigonometry they learn; send them over here for a week, and I'll show them how they'll be using it."
Munster High School guidance counselor Sharon Vail said it will be important to eliminate the "stereotype" that jobs in the building trades industry have had. Vail said the presentation indicates that jobs in the building trades pay just as well as those in the medical or legal fields.
Valparaiso High School guidance counselor Jeff Kolish said education is key to student success, and the presentation from experts in the building trades industry will enable counselors to better explain what is available to students.
Cassandra Neff, a New Prairie High School guidance counselor, said she and fellow high school counselors have been brainstorming ideas on how to direct students who are not interested in college. She said it's important to know about the wide range of jobs in the building trades and the classes required to be successful in the industry.