Instructor Ricky Moore discusses a lesson on reading blueprints during an apprenticeship class at the Laborers Local 663 hall in Clever
Class is in session to build the future of the Ozarks.
It’s not a classroom at Missouri State University, Drury University or Ozarks Technical Community College. It’s a classroom at the union hall of Heavy Construction Laborers Union Local 663 in Clever, Mo.
The most recent classes consisted of four apprentices and a journeyman trying to improve his skills during seasonal construction downtime. The union has 92 members of the union enrolled as apprentices. Local 663 covers Greene, Christian and 32 other counties across western and southern Missouri. The students spent time in the classroom learning to study blueprints, construction math and other skills at the union hall in December.
Tracy Campbell is 19, and graduated from Sparta High School in 2017. Throughout high school, he wasn’t sure college would be his next step. “I never seriously thought about it. I figured that this would probably be a better opportunity for me than college.”
Tyler Coday is 20, and graduated from Hartville High School in 2016. He took classes at Missouri State University-West Plains through the A+ Program, then took classes on campus after graduation. “Throughout high school, I always thought I’d go to college and try to get a business degree,” he said.
Gairett Dykes of Mt. Vernon is 20, and engaged to be married. He worked for a while as a police dispatcher in Aurora after graduating high school there in 2015. He enrolled in the apprentice program last February, at the urging of his future father-in-law, Derick Barnes, a business agent with the union. “I was a dispatcher, and he kept on kinda asking me if I wanted to join. The dispatching job didn’t pay very much.”
Tracy, Tyler and Gairett fit the typical profile of the apprentice. Then you have Clark Tetley and Tom McCoy.
Clark is 44, and is supporting a daughter. He lives in Seymour, and graduated high school in Lake Ozark. He spent more than 20 years on a variety of jobs, including roofing, construction and food service. “I moved down here, and a friend of mine was in the union, working construction, and I thought, ‘Well, I’d like to get into that.”
Tom McCoy is 42. He lives in Buffalo with his wife and two children they adopted after caring for them as foster parents. He’s a graduate of the apprenticeship program, which he entered after his last employer reacted to a strike by going out of business. He was seasonally laid off when he took the class in early December. He used his down time to improve his blueprint-reading skills to make him a more valuable employee.
None of the five men remembered hearing much about a potential career in the building trades from school counselors. “They don’t really say anything. They just push for college, and that’s it,” said Campbell.
Ricky Moore, who teaches some of the apprenticeship classes, said that’s pretty typical at many high schools. They don’t get a lot of information about apprenticeships or careers in the building trades. “They received either no information at all or wrong information,” Moore said.
Coday believes his apprenticeship is paving the way for his career. “I think is absolutely setting me up better because I’m learning a lot more things that are going to help me get into a certain career path that I can follow until I decide to retire.”
Shortly after taking the classes, McCoy went back to work, joining McCarthy Construction, a St. Louis firm doing work on several projects for Mercy Springfield. He believes the additional training helps. “For me, it’s better hands-on because I learn better that way.”
While the apprentices are members of the union, each is employed by local firms that include Dewitt and Associates, Artisan Construction and Hunter Chase and Associates. They spend their time working a variety of tasks on jobsites, earning a training wage that’s almost double what others make in minimum wage jobs. Apprentices also receive benefits through collective bargaining agreements between the union and contractors, without payroll deductions. Those benefits include health insurance, a pension, the classroom training, on a variety of disciplines: pipelaying, first aid, pipe and grade, blueprints, flagging and handling hazardous waste.
The benefits are crucial to family men like McCoy and Tetley. “I think I’m doing better with the pay - more for my family,” Tetley said.
Mary Beth Hartman, president of Hunter Chase and Associates, said her company has sent a handful of employees through the apprenticeship program over the last 17 years. “We employ them as an apprentice when recommended to us as a good potential hire that needs training,” she explained. “They get better prepared to do the work from working and learning with the crews they work with.”
Local 663’s program is one of 400 registered apprenticeship programs in the state of Missouri, training more than 13,000 apprentices. It’s part of a growing trend, as the state has seen registered apprenticeship programs grow by more than 10 percent in the last year, training more 600 additional apprentices.
Figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show the average starting salary after completing an apprenticeship is $55,000 a year for laborers around the nation. Laborers in our area don’t typically make that much, but almost always receive better pay and benefits than non-union laborers.
For more information on apprenticeships in Missouri, click here. See more photos here.