New training program aims to fill quality skilled trade jobs in Cedar Rapids area

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CORALVILLE, Iowa (KCRG) - Royce Peterson has spent most of his life as a carpenter, with much of that time as a member of the Carpenters Union.

University of Iowa Labor Center Director Jennifer Scherer explains the center's new "Quality Pre-Apprenticeship Program" on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019 (Mary Green/KCRG)

Peterson, who serves as the business representative for Carpenters Local 1260 in Iowa City, said finding people to fill open jobs used to be easier. But now, he estimates he spends 60% of his time recruiting.

“They push a lot of people into college now, so it has depleted our opportunity to get people in,” Peterson said.

That recruiting will become even more crucial over the next few years, when about 5,000 veteran carpenters in the Midwest are expected to retire from their jobs and the union, according to Peterson.

"We need to replace people, and we need to replace them quick,” Peterson said.

He believes a new program from the University of Iowa Labor Center could help with those struggles.

"There's a lot of hoops you need to jump through to get into the building trades, and this is going to help people pretty much get through most of those hoops prior to coming to us,” Peterson said.

The Quality Pre-Apprenticeship Program will help people seeking jobs in the skilled trades to qualify for a registered apprenticeship in the Cedar Rapids area. In these fields, employees work as apprentices for a period of time before they are promoted to a journeyman position, which comes with increased pay.

The training program, which is free for up to 30 people to attend, will start Jan. 7 and will last four weeks. Participants will attend class three days a week in Coralville, in which they’ll obtain OSHA, CPR, and other certifications that are required for skilled trade jobs. They’ll also tour a variety of workplaces in the Cedar Rapids area to figure out which field they want to enter.

“They’ll get connected with apprenticeship training coordinators and learn more about what options they have and be ready to apply at the end of four weeks,” Jennifer Scherer, the director of the University of Iowa Labor Center, said.

"Already having those skills, you've kind of got the leg up already,” Peterson added.

The program is currently partnered with more than a dozen trades, including bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, glaziers, heat and frost insulators, ironworkers, laborers, millwrights, operating engineers, painters, plumbers, pipefitters, roofers and sheet metal workers.

The Labor Center recently launched a pilot version of this program in Des Moines, which Scherer said was successful, adding that this type of program is the first of its kind in Iowa. She said their goal is to connect more people with quality employment.

"We have lots and lots of people who are unemployed or underemployed or working two or three jobs that don't sustain them and their families,” she said.

They also want to fill more jobs and keep companies going.

"This is something that should've been done several years ago. It would've made my life a lot easier,” Peterson said.

The program is accepting applications until the end of December. You can apply by calling 319-335-4144.