Apprenticeships provide new opportunities, help fill job openings in state

Plumbing apprentice Scott Konken posted on Friday, January 6, 2023 in  College News

WATERLOO — Scott Konken starts his day in a rather unusual way for a student.

Instead of hitting the books and going to classes, his education consists of working at Young Plumbing & Heating. There, he’s learned how to read blueprints, weld black iron boiler pipes and cast iron drainage pipes. He recently finished his first level in the apprenticeship program.

“I’m fortunate enough to be introduced to as much of the craft as I have,” Konken said.

Konken grew up in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area and went into the military after high school. After serving for almost five years, he moved to Texas with his new wife. Konken worked in landscaping and irrigation, a job he ended up liking, which set the jumping-off point for his exploration in hands-on careers, like plumbing or possibly carpentry.

He is enrolled in the apprenticeship program at Hawkeye Community College, which offers programs in the construction trades of plumbing, electrical, HVAC and carpentry as well as a number of other career fields. Among those are healthcare, as a certified nursing assistant or a home health aide; commercial truck driving; industrial maintenance; and residential wireman.

HCC hopes to expand the apprenticeship program into robotic operators and programmers soon with the smart automation center under construction at the downtown TechWorks Campus, said Srdjan Golub, the director of community education and workforce solutions. Golub said Hawkeye wants to offer a wider range of trade professions and skills to suit the growing need for more bodies in the workforce. The college is striving to meet potential workers where they are, he noted, and help with their specific needs.

“A lot of our folks are 25 and older,” Golub said. “They’re non-traditional students. Most of the time, they went to school for something else and now they have to upscale or rescale, they have families, they have other jobs, potentially, they’re still paying off their student loans.

“They need the ability to (learn skills) and still work and have an income. That’s where the earn-to-learn model with registered apprentices comes in.”

It pays off in the long-run for those who complete a registered apprenticeship – and for their employers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 93% of apprentices who finish their programs retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000. Apprentice graduates also have a $300,000-plus lifetime earning advantage compared to their peers. Employers, meanwhile, realize an average return on investment of $1.47 for every $1 invested.

For Konken, who recently bought a house, the apprenticeship program is working well. Right now, his job is concentrated on renovations of Grundy Hall at Hawkeye Community College. The work will result in a new dental clinic and the addition of emergency medical services training.

As Konken installs pipes, he’s paired with a journeyman from the company. That person has more knowledge about the trade and can guide the apprentice, said Andrew Tink, an employee at Young Plumbing & Heating.

“We currently have 20 apprentices ... that are in the Hawkeye Community College program,” he said.

The apprentices at Young Plumbing & Heating are full-time employees who receive appropriate full-time benefits. The company also pays their schooling fees in an effort to support them and improve retention. This is how it works at Young Plumbing & Heating, though other companies who work with HCC have similar policies, Tink said.

You don’t have to be enrolled at a community college to enter an apprenticeship; high schoolers also have access to similar opportunities. Hawkeye partners with the Waterloo Career Center in providing job shadowing and work possibilities for students.

“We’re trying to build as many career paths as possible,” Golub said.

Konken recommends the apprenticeship program, saying it teaches life skills that are needed in any career – not just in a trade field. Iowa Workforce Development also offers registered apprenticeship programs through the state of Iowa.

There are 76,380 job openings as of Dec. 29.

“As long as you’re humble and willing to learn, it’s well worth the skill set,” Konken said. “It’s something no one can ever take from you, once you learn. And you can work anywhere, not just in this country, but you can work anywhere in the world with this experience and knowledge.”

By Rochita Ghosh, Waterloo Courier


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