By Ariele Vaccaro
Not everyone can say his or her field is booming right now – especially in the years after what’s been coined as the Great Recession. However, it could be that tradesmen and women are now seeing a boost in the need for their services.
From sheet metal working and cement masonry, to carpentry and steam fitting, demand for these skilled trades is growing.
During the past several year, some of downtown Milwaukee’s biggest names have been looking to modernize and revolutionize.
In 2010, the Moderne sought to take on new development – and it did. Those driving to and from work on I-94 watched the Potawatomi Hotel materialize in little more than two years, between July 2012 and August 2014. Northwestern Mutual and the City of Milwaukee agreed, in 2012, to put $54 million into revamping the bank’s downtown location. Since then, Northwestern Mutual has torn down its old, brown building in order to build a new, shining skyscraper. Meanwhile, serious talks of a new Bucks arena are taking place.
According to Ken Kraemer, Executive Director at Building Advantage, it’s high profile projects like these that are squashing a common misconception that there is not enough work in skilled trades.
“We’re really seeing a great surge, not only in the work, but in the growth of our workforce,” said Kraemer. He noted that Building Advantage’s apprenticeships are the fullest they’ve been since 2006.
Building Advantage is a Milwaukee-based organization that trains prospective skilled workers in some 20 different trades and connects them with jobs. The group is busy right now, training men and women to work on construction projects, and working with 20,000 union tradespeople and 600 contractors.
According to a report released by Northwestern Mutual, the bank’s project is expected to create 1,900 jobs by the year 2030. One thousand of those would be construction jobs.
This development will particularly benefit Milwaukee residents, as it will operate under the Residents Preference Program (RPP), which guarantees that underemployed city residents will take 40 percent of worker hours for the project.
It’s not just the Northwestern Mutual building keeping skilled workers busy, though. That’s why Kraemer cringes when he hears some call construction opportunities “temp jobs”.
“They are permanent jobs, we just happen to move around a lot,” said Kraemer.
Safety is yet another concern for some as they consider entering the skilled trades workforce. According to Kraemer, where Building Advantage workers are present, there are also frequent safety checks.
“We’ve got more sets of eyes,” said Kraemer, who admitted that construction is one of the more dangerous industries to work in. He assured that apprenticeships and training would prepare workers for what could be a risky job.
And although construction jobs appear to be on the rise, Kraemer said only those willing to put in extensive time and effort should seek a career in the field. In addition, it’s important to consider the amount of time one will spend in the elements, amidst the snow, rain, or beating sun.
“There’s a big commitment that comes along with it. Construction is a tough field,” said Kraemer.
Despite the risks, there are a number of benefits to gain, such as a pension and health insurance, and most workers are guaranteed a raise during their second year in the field.
Building Advantage works with unionized workers. Why? For Kraemer, it ensures that an employer will work alongside its workers for a mutually agreed goal.
Union-affiliated or not, skilled workers are in rising demand. And as university tuition increases across the country, the trades could become more and more sought-after career choices.