Wayland school bridges skilled trade jobs gap

Allegan County

WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Shae Luther is looking towards a future as a millwright, someone who works on big industrial machines like generators, turbines and conveyors. What attracts him most to the work is the diversity of projects.

“You’re working on one thing one day and it can just completely change from week to week,” Luther said.

But Luther needs to learn the ropes. So he has enrolled in the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights’ training program at its recently opened training facility in Wayland. The union provides the training. Contractors pay students to attend.

In four years, Luther plans to be set for his working life.         

“Walk out with a journeyman, a full career,” Luther said.

The union has come up with a way to start bridging the gap between contractors who need workers and workers who need skills.

24 Hour News 8 was on hand when the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights broke ground on their training facility in Wayland in 2017. Having opened in January, the $15 million, 77,000 square-foot facility now offers training for carpenters, millwrights, welders and other trades.

One of the unfortunate messages that came out of the recession was to lock up the tool chest because jobs requiring skilled trades were gone. But the message was wrong and now industries like construction are paying the price. The jobs aren’t hard to find, but they are hard to fill.   

“One particular bridge builder in the area is looking for 100 carpenters in the next couple months,” Tod Sandy, the center’s facility coordinator, pointed out as an example.

How much would that person be making on average?

“Probably a journeyman is anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000, depending on the kind of hours they work,” Sandy said.

The trade school teaches more than the mechanics. At most work sites, the blueprints are on a tablet, not a rolled-out sheet of paper. So classrooms are equipped with the latest digital equipment.

The school has an enrollment of 300 and hopes to increase that number in the next three to five years. The need for skilled workers isn’t likely going away anytime soon.

“We’re seeing more work now than we’ve seen in a number of years. We’re just scrambling to catch up with that,” Sandy said.

The council will hold a job fair from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. May 7 at the center at 500 Reno Drive. If you’d like to learn more, the information is as close as your mobile device. Just text “Future” to 91990.

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