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Carpenters’ Union Recruiting

I don’t mean to stand here and recruit for the carpenters’ union. That’s what the new trailer is for. This does seem like a sweet deal, though: learn a trade, earn a living while you do it, launch a career. Carpenters’ Union Recruiting.

Maybe I’m venturing a little ahead of myself. But I have preached this gospel before, and the timing keeps getting better as infrastructure bills ensure future projects and the workforce grows creakier: Have y’all considered a skilled trade?

Not enough people do, which is one of the reasons the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights (MRCC) commissioned a rolling, 44-foot-long enticement that will make its debut outside Huntington Place at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

The Schools to Tools Mobile Experience is the centerpiece of an MRCC celebration that dovetails nicely with the Detroit Labor Day Parade, which starts at 9 a.m. in Corktown after a three-year-long COVID-19 coffee break.

Carpenters’ Union Recruiting

The Free Press took an advance stroll through the trailer a few days ago as workers were adding a few final flourishes. Paid for through a state grant, it’ll keep a busy schedule of appearances at high schools throughout Michigan, fertile ground for finding young people who might be stuck for something to do next that doesn’t involve being stuck for student loans.

“It’s hard to get the number of kids we want to reach to come to us,” said Steve Purchase, the MRCC communications director. “So we’re going to go to them.”

C’mon in, the union will purr. Slap on a helmet and do some virtual welding. Answer trivia questions. Drive an industrial-size nail, use power tools, take selfies on a virtual job site, absorb the recorded cadence of a spoken-word poet — “No debt, no doubt, no stress, no bills. Invest your sweat in skills, and build.”

“We want to humanize the people wearing the hard hats,” Purchase said, remind everyone that they’re not all third-generation white guys anymore, and reinforce that there’s far more to being a union carpenter than framing houses.

Plus, he said, the exhibit answers an eternal question:

What the heck is a millwright?

Demand goes up, boomers clear out

I liked college so much I stayed for five years. I could afford to; between selling shoes, flipping pizzas, working for the campus newspaper and playing poker, I could scare up $2,000 a year and never fill out a loan application.

The annual tab for that same state university is now $25,000, and selling shoes has not kept up with inflation.

An apprentice carpenter, meanwhile, makes $20 an hour plus benefits, and lots of other trades offer similar programs. Figure out what you want to do, learn how to do it, and never have to treat ramen noodles as a recognized food group.

From the Department of Full Disclosure, that assumes no more economic meltdowns like the one in 2008. When work hours cratered, the MRCC’s pension fund took a punch below the tool belt, though Purchase said no cuts in payments have been needed and the union is on track to apply for help from the 2021 American Rescue Plan.

“College and skilled trades have always been an equal value opportunity,” contended John Perkins, one of a few dozen MRCC officers throughout the state known as business representatives. “But nobody knows that.”

Perkins, 30, helped build Little Caesars Arena, learning concrete form work as a rookie and transitioning to framing and metal components. After four years, he became a journeyman, and while he was earning that status, the need for people like him kept growing.


With baby boomers clocking out, daunting numbers abound. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, 1.7 million infrastructure workers will either retire or otherwise leave an opening every year until 2031.We’re already short 18,000 aircraft mechanics, and doesn’t that fill you with confidence as you book a flight? The construction industry had almost 400,000 openings per month last year, and that’s while federal money was flowing to municipalities to build things.

“At least 30% of the workers in skilled trades are eligible to retire,” Perkins said.

Those include MRCC members wielding welding torches on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, and yes, it also means millwrights — the perfectionists who need to be precise to thousandths of an inch on turbines, Amazon warehouse conveyors, and anything else that rotates or moves.

Widening the net

Filling open slots used to be easy. Fathers told sons, uncles told nephews, and more than half the population remained an untapped resource.

“Frankly,” said Purchase, 40, “the trades for a long time didn’t do a great job of opening our doors to people of color and to women. We’re making a conscious effort to do that.”

Perkins said he recruited eight apprentices from his alma mater, Martin Luther King High in Detroit. Six are about to become journeymen, or in the lyrical terminology of the trades, “journey out.”

The MRCC, 14,000 strong, remains thousands of members short of what it needs, Purchase said, which helps explain a $60 million investment from the union and its contractors across the last four years for new training centers in Detroit and just outside Grand Rapids and Marquette.

And, it explains a $70,000 used Freightliner tractor and a $100,000 used slide-out trailer.

They’ve been berthed since May in Clawson at Creative Solutions Group, founded by a former tradesman and probably best known for its work on auto show displays.

The tractor is white, with a Schools to Tools logo on the door. The trailer is wrapped in blue murals of young, lively workers with big gold bursts of encouragement: “YOU’RE READY. RIGHT NOW!”

Inside, a man in jeans and work boots knelt in front of an open-faced cabinet that held six white hard hats outfitted with augmented reality glasses. He checked the width of the cabinet with a tape measure, twice.

Someone had decided that the cabinet needed a door. Fortunately, there was no shortage of union carpenters.

Source: Carpenters’ Union Recruiting

Michigan Carpenters and Millwrights Unveil Schools to Tools Mobile Field Trip Trailer at Labor Day Event

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