Help Wanted: NACTF Apprentice Program helping to restock a depleted skilled workforce

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - It's a growing need throughout the country. Currently, there is an estimated shortage of more than 2 million skilled tradesmen.

"It's hard to find qualified employees," said John Barnard.

Barnard is a senior project manager at M&D Mechanical Contractors, Inc. in Decatur, and he is one of the 23 percent of Alabamians employed in the construction industry.

But as nearly 2,900 skilled laborer jobs sit open throughout the state each year, his field is desperate for new workers.

"Everybody thinks that you need to go to school," Barnard said. "I love school. My son went to school, graduated from college, but there are other options and that's one thing that the older generation is retiring off and that leaves us short on qualified craftsmen."

Nationally, the average age of a skilled tradesman is 59 years-old. For every four laborers that leave the industry, only one enters the profession.

However, there is a growing push to educate young students about this high-demand career field. The National Center for Construction Education and Research provides curriculum for high schools and community colleges throughout the state. Its course of study is also the foundation for the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation Apprentice Program.

"Just letting these kids know that there's other options and I think that's the biggest thing," said Barnard, "they just don't know that these options are available."

Cody Brooks recently completed the NACTF Apprentice Program and now works as a pipefitter for M&D.

"Going to college and then seeing that it wasn't my thing and thinking I didn't have an alternate route to go, but then getting in the apprenticeship program and going through it, gave me the confidence and ability to feel like I could make it to higher places," he said.

The program lasts four years consisting of 144 hours of theory training each year, along with 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. NACTF recently started an agreement with Bob Jones High School to not only bolster its classroom work, but hopefully create a gateway for many of its students.

For Brooks, his employer not only guaranteed him a job at the end of the program, but it also paid for him to complete it.

"It's just a benefit to the company to train the employees, as it is for the employee to get trained," said Barnard.

Barnard, who served as one of Brooks's plumbing instructors, is also a product of the apprenticeship program.

"They not only learn a trade, but we also have students that go through the program that move up in the company," he said. We've had students go through the program that are now supervisors and foremen."

Brooks plans to follow a similar path.

"I believe this was the best career move I could have made," he said.

To learn more about the apprentice program, click here or email info@nactf.org.