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December 2013

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Wis. IBEW Leaders Open High Schoolers'
Eyes to Building Trades

You hear it from the mouths of young people every day: I can't afford college. The debt would be too big. I'm not sure what to do.

Clay Tschillard is working to allay those fears and offer some hope for high schoolers in Wisconsin. The Madison Local 159 member is part of a team that launched the new "Trade Up" program — an initiative that offers students an up-close look at the building trades and helps pave the way for job growth.

"We want students to know that there are other options that lead to quality careers, without the student loan debt," said Tschillard, the apprenticeship coordinator for the state's NJATC program.

The campaign developed a year ago when IBEW instructors started talking with area high school career counselors about the viability of apprenticeships. In the past, Tschillard said, career counseling has focused solely on a four-year college degree, to the exclusion of many other options. "This is one of the first times they've come to us and asked, 'Can you show these kids what you have to offer?'" Tschillard said.

Trade Up launched at 21 high schools in October in districts across the south central part of the state. The campaign includes curriculum, fliers, an interactive Web site featuring apprentice testimonials, videos and more for school counselors. The multimedia teaching tools were produced by the area's Workforce Development Board.

The IBEW is one of several unions participating — including the sheet metal workers, plumbers, laborers, bricklayers, iron workers and painters and drywall finishers.

Trade Up is already scoring positive marks from many school counselors. "You've got a perfect storm of people talking about college debt," said Greg Benz, the school-to-career coordinator for Waunakee High School. "If it's successful in raising awareness, I could see it replicated throughout the state."

While it's early to judge the ultimate outcome of the program, "We've already seen an increase in the number of apprenticeship applicants," Tschillard said. "We're getting calls from high schools, and word is out there that the IBEW is looking for qualified people."

The wage advantage that comes from being a skilled worker is a key point of Trade Up. "The minimum wage in Wisconsin is $7.25, but the average hourly wage for an electrician is $25.63," Tschillard said. Journeyman-level salaries for electricians in the state exceed $60,000 a year.

Visit the interactive Trade Up Web site at


A new program is touting the benefits of trade apprenticeships to high school students in Wisconsin.