Oak Lawn job fair focuses on trades
BY STEVE METSCH email@example.com December 25, 2013 9:43AM
Representatives from various trades meet Dec. 12 with current and former Oak Lawn Community High School students at a job fair. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Daniel Hughes, of Oak Lawn, is itching to find a career, so he went to a recent trades job fair at his old school to see what’s out there.
Hughes, 20, is a graduate of Oak Lawn Community High School. He and 19 others attended the jobs fair put together by the school and Oak Lawn Village Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) on Dec. 12.
At the event, held in the school library, representatives from various trades talked with potential job-seekers about what it takes to work in the trades and what benefits may await them if they start as apprentices.
Maurice King, vice president of IBEW Local 134, talked about a career as an electrician. Hughes was the one asking the most questions.
“You guys are looking at colleges. Pretty expensive, right? What would it cost to go to school to be an electrician? It’s actually free. They pay you to go to an apprentice school in Alsip. It’s part classroom, but most of it is getting on-the-job training,” King said.
Students start with 11 weeks of basic classes before they begin work as an apprentice. There are more intervals of classwork and on-the-job training. But, as King noted, one won’t be faced with huge college bills when he or she is done. That piqued Hughes’ interest.
“I work at Chipotle right now. There’s a lot of opportunity, but I’m looking for something bigger. The trades interest me,” Hughes said. “I have to look more into it.”
Students learned about jobs as plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, carpenters and laborers.
Desmond, who works downtown and is a union stationary engineer “helping keep the building running,” was encouraged by the turnout.
“We need people working in the trades,” Desmond said.
“I see a lot of these kids. They do go to college for four years, spend $70,000 or $80,000, and then return home and try to get into the trades. Why not get in now and not have that debt?” Desmond said.
“Plus, if you have those skills, you can work anywhere in the world. Anywhere,” said Desmond, who emigrated from his native Ireland as a carpenter.
Suzanne Kendryna, assistant director of the Moraine Area Career System, is a partner with Moraine Valley Community College and 10 feeder high schools. She also was encouraged by the interest shown.
“Our mission is to promote career technical education,” she said. “Our goal is to get them on a path that makes sense for them. It doesn’t make sense for every student to go to four-year schools. We’re saying there are other pathways.”
Jesus Carillo, 17, a senior at Richards High School and resident of Chicago Ridge, is interested in work as a bricklayer.
“For me, I’d say that’s pretty good. Good money. I’m not really interested in college. It’s too much (money),” Carillo said. “I found out today how to apply to be an apprentice.”
Those who attended had plenty of good questions, said Rich O’Connor, training coordinator for Chicago Journeymen Plumbers and Technical Engineers Local Union 130 UA.
“We’re always looking for good people,” he said. “The trend has changed over the years. It used to be if you didn’t want to go to college, you went into a skilled trade. It’s gone away from that for some reason.
“I don’t know if all the counselors are in tune with vocational training, and I don’t know why. Plumbing, heating, electrical, we need all the trades. For some reason, we’ve lost something, but I think it’s coming back a little bit,” O’Connor said, although he conceded “it’s been rough the past five or six years.
“Ten years ago, we couldn’t supply enough apprentices to contractors. Work was so busy and we had guys from all around the country here,” he said.
Organizers hope to have a similar event at Oak Lawn Community High School next school year.
“This is something we hope we can build on,” said Rita Olsen, of the village of Oak Lawn’s jobs task force.
“These are geared for kids who don’t want to go to a four-year university,” Olsen said. “This is for kids to learn how to get into the apprentice programs. How to get into the trades. How do you do it? This is opening the door for them. This is huge for these kids.”