ZIAIRE LOWERY AND ELLIS STEPHENS, juniors at Carrick High School, are in the school’s carpentry program. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
FIRST IN THE STATE
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that Pittsburgh Public Schools’ CTE (Career and Technical Education) initiative has secured the first registered carpentry pre-apprenticeship program in the state.
Called “The Pipeline Into The Trades” (P.I.T.T.), the program is sponsored by CTE and the Keystone Mountain Lakes Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund.
“Because Pittsburgh Public Schools partnered with us and we are an approved apprentice training program throughout the state, they (PPS) have the ability to become a pre-apprenticeship program, which offers their students a pipeline into our program,” voiced Tom Bender, council representative of the Carpenters’ Union Local 432, in an interview with the Courier, Nov. 17. “So, any student that’s going through any other vo-tech in the area is being prepared through their own curriculum to take a test to enter into our apprenticeship program, where Pittsburgh Public is using our curriculum to prepare their students to get into our program. It’s a better, easier pipeline.”
Roughly 50 students are enrolled in the two CTE carpentry programs at Carrick and Westinghouse high schools. The program includes instruction in laying out floor plans and repairing structures and fixtures using hand and power tools, among other skills. Students learn about construction materials, estimating, blueprint reading and finish carpentry techniques.
Angela Mike, director of PPS’ CTE program, told the Courier it’s a real benefit for the students that they can work with mentors and Carpenters’ Union members. She said there’s tors and Carpenters’ Union members. She said there’s nothing like having the person who’s actually doing the job on a daily basis, mentoring the high school students.
“We’ve coordinated our curriculum to create a seamless transition to prepare them to come into the union and be prepared to make that transition from a pre-apprentice to an apprentice,” Mike said. “This formalizes our partnership and puts a lot of things in place to make sure our students are ready to transition.”
Carl Uccellini is the carpentry teacher at Carrick. He told the Courier the students are constructing a “tiny home” just outside the high school. What are the students learning?
“Floor layouts, wall layouts, rafter layouts, all of those things,” Uccellini said. “It’s really been good (working on the tiny home). It replicates the workplace. It would be just like they were a professional carpenter.”
Ziaire Lowery is a junior at Carrick High School. His friend, Ellis Stephens, is also a junior at the school. They’re in the carpentry program at Carrick, and Lowery told the Courier he likes carpentry because “not many kids get a chance to do what we’re able to do. Plus, it’s a better opportunity to get out in real life and do lots of real-world stuff.”
Ellis concurred, calling carpentry a “very reliable” career path.
Bender smiled when he discussed salaries of professional carpenters in the union.
“Any one of these seniors that graduate high school that enter into our apprenticeship program and in four years will have no student debt; they’ll be making $120,000 a year with wages and benefits. That’s the number,” he said.
Devin Singleton is on his way to becoming a professional carpenter. He graduated from Westinghouse Academy in 2019, a student of the CTE’s carpentry instruction. He passed all the necessary exams and is now in the second year of his four-year apprenticeship.
He said he’s learned so much, from drywall, framing, etc. But for Singleton, it’s not just about the prospects of an impressive salary, but the contribution carpenters make to society. Carpenters build everything from malls, churches, skyscrapers, bridges, even high-end furniture.
“You look back, 10 years from now…you’ll look at a building you worked on and say, ‘I remember I worked on there.’ You associate it with stories. Making a little legacy for yourself.”