Pre-apprenticeship program boosts youth interest in trade careers

Brian Pedersen//October 15, 2019

Pre-apprenticeship program boosts youth interest in trade careers

Brian Pedersen//October 15, 2019

One regional builder is counting on a pre-apprenticeship program to help fill the void of skilled workers entering the field.

Kinsley Construction, which has a Wyomissing office, has been offering a pre-apprenticeship program for students interested in entering the construction industry. Here, instructor Steven Taylor works with students on a project. (Submitted) –

For the 2017-18 school year, Kinsley Construction of York collaborated with the York County Alliance for Learning to offer their program to high school seniors who showed an interest in construction and want to pursue a career or apprenticeship program in the field.

Kinsley, has 1,400 employees across the mid-Atlantic, including its location in Wyomissing, Berks County.

Officials say they will continue offering the pre-apprenticeship program, citing its success.

Throughout the school year, students participate in 10 sessions at the Kinsley Education Center in York, including 10 hours of Occupational Safety and Health Administration training, lessons on blueprint reading and framing, and sessions where they build a six-foot-by-eight-foot house.

The program is free. The company asks students to bring their own steel-toed boots, and provides all the tools and equipment required, footing the entire bill for the program.

The program is showing signs of growth. Consider:

  • 13 seniors completed the pre-apprenticeship program in the 2017-18 school year. Of those, nine continued careers in the trades or entered into Kinsley’s apprenticeship program.
  • In the 2018-19 school year, 10 seniors completed the program and Kinsley accepted nine into the program.
  • This school year, 19 seniors started the program.

While Kinsley has had an apprenticeship program since 2000, it had been thinking about starting a pre-apprenticeship program as a way to capture younger workers. The program allows students to explore a career while developing transferrable skills before entering the workforce.

“Over the past years, pre-apprenticeship programs kept coming up in discussions,” said Deb Rohrbaugh, associate director of Kinsley’s apprenticeship program. “No one really wanted to get the ball rolling. On the business side, people were leery. I approached the board and asked if they would consider a pre-apprenticeship program in construction.”

They did and Rohrbaugh said the program has been a very positive one.

At Kinsley, the apprentices mentor students in the pre-apprenticeship program, she added.

“It typically increases the success rates of the students,” said Kevin Apnel, executive director of the York Alliance of Learning. “Their success rates are higher if they completed a pre-apprenticeship program and they go into an apprenticeship program.”


Communication is key

Data from the state Department of Labor & Industry shows those who complete a pre-apprenticeship program are more likely to complete an apprenticeship and have a retention rate of 80 percent, nearly 25 percent higher than the national apprenticeship rate.

Good communication is a key skill that both partners stress is important for getting into in any profession and one they fully promote in construction.

“Communication is the most important tool in the tool box,” Apnel said. “We are trying to make them employable. They let them make mistakes so they can learn.”

The pre-apprenticeship program kicks off in September and ends in April, Apnel said. Kinsley would rather train the students in-house so it can customize the training for students, he added.

The school also gives the students credits for participating. Some 21 school systems are served by the York County Alliance for Learning. Last year, 11 districts participated; this year there are 19, Rohrbaugh said.

The OSHA training helps participants realize the safety aspect of what construction is about, she said. In addition, employees from Kinsley share details of what they do, such as highway and bridgework, iron working, carpentry and other divisions, with students.


Real-world experience

While carpentry is the focus of the pre-apprenticeship program, participants can explore other areas.

Rohrbaugh estimated that the company invests tens of thousands of dollars in training for this program. However, the investment is a worthy one, according to company officials.

If companies can’t connect with the workforce emerging from high schools, the industry will see a labor shortage, she said.

She sees the program as something that’s also valuable to the apprentices as well.

“It’s also a good training time for our apprentices,” she said.

The company strives to make the experience as much of a real-world experience as possible, she said.

“I see this program as sort of multidimensional,” said Taryn Kuhn, senior director of marketing and communications for Kinsley Construction. “It’s providing opportunities for high school students. It’s a feeder into the apprenticeship program, providing opportunities across all divisions.

“Some of our very first apprentices are still working for Kinsley today decades later,” she said. “It’s really a catalyst for them to build a career and move up through the organization.”

The sky really is the limit, according to Rohrbaugh.

Out of the first group of apprentices in 2000, three are working for Kinsley.

It’s always a possibility that apprentices may leave after graduation, said Sarah McCauley, marketing content coordinator for Kinsley Construction.

“We’re thankful almost all continue their career at Kinsley and we credit that to the company culture, the strong relationships they build with their mentors and the experience they’ve gained through our programs.”