Building a future for apprentices

Funds help cover cost of equipment, tools, and clothing to keep apprentices on the path to completing their training and advancing to in-demand careers.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Employers supply whatever equipment — computer, phone, and office supplies — we need to do our jobs. Other than investing in a large, insulated travel coffee mug, what was the last crucial piece of self-purchased equipment that’s an absolute requirement for you to perform your job at a high level?

For those workers in the industrial trades, however, most if not all of their tools, protective clothing, and other equipment must be purchased out of pocket. That might be manageable once they’ve landed a well-paid permanent gig, but the cost of being an apprentice is high, with steep expenses for clothing, tools, and equipment on modest wages, and limited options for financial aid. Even the most motivated apprentices are at risk of abandoning their training when faced with these financial obstacles.

It’s the main reason Great Lakes Higher Education Corp. & Affiliates recently awarded a record amount in scholarships to construction and industrial trades apprentices attending each of the 16 Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) institutions.

Started in 2013, the Tools of the Trade Apprentice Scholarship program awarded $20,000 worth of $1,000 scholarships to apprentices at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. Now in its fifth year, the program recently awarded a record $300,000 in scholarships to 200 apprentice students across the state, including 44 at Madison College — the most of any tech college in Wisconsin. Each apprentice received a $1,500 scholarship.

For apprentices struggling to make ends meet, the cost of something as basic as a pair of steel-toe boots can stand in the way of program completion.

Construction apprenticeship classrooms at Madison College provide students with an environment to practice their craft, in addition to their on-the-job training duties.

The cost for a set of basic tools depends, of course, on the trade and the vendor/manufacturer, but the average range for a good set of tools that won’t break or wear out quickly can run from $500 to $750.

Typical tools in the construction trades include a tape measure, hammer, set of screwdrivers, set of pliers, set of wrenches, flashlight, and toolbox or pouch. In addition, most trades require personal protection clothing (PPC) and equipment such as fire-retardant shirts/pants, steel-toe boots, and the ubiquitous hard hat.

Lucas A. White, interim associate dean at the School of Applied Science, Engineering, and Technology at Madison College, went to most of the apprenticeship construction trade classrooms to promote the Tools of the Trade scholarship. “I think most students were excited to know there was money available to help pay for the tools, supplies, equipment, and clothing attire — how [spending] approximately one hour [filling out the application] could turn into $1,500!”

“Our apprenticeship trade programs are booming with enrollment,” says White. “Classes are full. These scholarships can literally make a difference in a student continuing in their apprenticeship program or not. Apprentices have the responsibility of working on the job and in the classroom, and the tools are so crucial in their education and careers.”

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