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By day, Knight working to slay labor shortage

Suzanne Knight - ABC of Wisconsin (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Suzanne Knight – ABC of Wisconsin (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

When Suzanne Knight talks to high school students about the construction industry, she often discovers that she is the first person to tell them about alternatives to going to a four-year college.

And if they aren’t paying attention at first, they are by the time she says an apprenticeship can prepare them for a career with little or no college debt.

“This is huge for the younger generation — knowing they won’t wind up with thousands of dollars of student loan debt after they complete their education,” said Knight, who is education coordinator for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

Knight said she tries to tailor her message to whatever person or group she is addressing.

“For other individuals, for example, those that have gone to a four-year college, but their degree is not applicable to any job, or they can’t locate a job, I will let them know about all of the different opportunities construction can provide, and the career path you can take in construction, starting with the apprenticeship program,” Knight said.

No matter whom she is talking to, though, the underlying goals are the same: To combat the construction industry’s persistent labor shortage at the same as introducing people to a much-needed and satisfying line of work.

Knight can testify to the benefits of having a job that not only pays the bills but also brings a sense of satisfaction.

When she graduated from UW-Whitewater, she had little to no idea what she was going to do. She discovered the opening at the ABC while searching for work in the university’s job-opportunities database.

Her position now has her working as an apprentice coordinator for people looking to get into nine separate trades. She not only promotes the construction industry to anyone trying to embark on a first, second or even third career; she also encourages employers to become apprenticeship trainers.

She then brings these trainers together with apprentices and helps fill out applications and maintain necessary records. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also deeply satisfying to know she is providing a much in-demand service.

“For me personally, the greatest part about my job, the part the gives me the warm and fuzzies, and the most satisfaction, is watching an apprentice from start to finish,” Knight said. “Watching them grow, flourish, become skilled in their trade.”

And her work doesn’t end once someone has completed an apprenticeship. Rather than sitting back and relaxing, she pitches in further by planning the ABC’s graduation banquets. The events are a delight, Knight said, because they put on full display the pride apprentices are feeling.

“They bring their families, their bosses, fellow employees,” she said. “It’s an amazing thing to see them so proud of what they’ve accomplished over the last three to five years.”

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