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Why we make a big deal of apprenticeship graduations

Kyle Schwarm is the marketing and communications director at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

Kyle Schwarm is the marketing and communications director at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

The atmosphere was very festive as the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin recognized its apprentices during a recent Graduation Banquet. I’ve attended many commencement ceremonies over the past couple of decades, and none was more emotional than this one. With a record 500 graduates, family members, friends and instructors in attendance, it was the ABC of Wisconsin’s largest graduation banquet yet.

More than 100 graduates walked across the stage to be honored for their hard work. The graduates beamed with pride as the audience looked on and cheered for every one of them. The enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment on display were very moving.

“It was an amazing experience, shaking the hands of each graduate as they came across the stage,” said Dan Bertler, chairman of the ABC of Wisconsin Board. “It was the coolest thing.”

It was also fun to see all the families and friends who had come out to support the graduates and take part in the occasion. Their enthusiasm was evident in the amount of time they spent afterward on photos and socializing. Apprentices were hugging family members and commenting how happy they are to have this opportunity.

One apprentice thanked the ABC for the graduation ceremony and recognition, but in my mind, all I could think was, “I should be thanking him for being part of our industry, and he’s thanking ABC.”

These apprentices deserve every bit of recognition for their dedication, hard work and commitment to the industry, and then some.

Apprenticeship is one of the oldest forms of education, and one that has never been more important for our workforce. But our culture doesn’t appreciate apprenticeship enough. Too often, our society defines “education” in a very narrow sense.

Apprenticeship is not always considered “real education,” as it should be. It is not often discussed as a pathway to the middle class, as it should be. Our culture has held four-year college graduates in higher regard, even beyond market saturation.

Our apprenticeship graduates won’t let that bring them down. Their graduation ceremony is every bit as important and rewarding as other post-secondary education commencements we’ve seen this spring.

But unlike most graduates of four-year colleges, graduates of our apprenticeships give little reason for being uncertain about their futures. They’re already employed, trained and earning great money, and have little-to-no tuition debt. The most recent Apprenticeship Report from the Wisconsin Technical College System lists the median salary of a new construction journey person in Wisconsin at $76,954. Apprenticeship prepares people for a future with family-sustaining jobs. In some instances, an apprentice will be the first person in a family who has graduated from a post-secondary education program.

Apprenticeships also open doors to other career options. Many of these graduates will continue their education, become project managers or start their own companies. Some will eventually become apprenticeship instructors and teach our future skilled craft persons.

“You have the ability to influence others and the opportunity to impact someone else’s young career in the trades,” said Adam Braun, a master electrician and the 2017 ABC of Wisconsin Apprentice of the Year, who gave the keynote address during this year’s Graduation Banquet. “Never stop learning. Remember, we all started somewhere and finishing your apprenticeship is the start of something new.”

This opportunity to celebrate achievement and strengthen the value of apprenticeship education should be wholeheartedly embraced by everyone in our industry. It’s a big deal, and a proud moment for graduates, families and friends. That’s why the graduation banquet is so important. You can be sure that the ABC of Wisconsin will make sure it’s a special event every year.

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