On November 7, representatives from Labor United attended Trades Day at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois, to educate groups of students on apprenticeship programs and career opportunities in the trades. The event was led by Johnetta Ryan of CISCO (Construction Industry Service Corporations). CISCO is Chicagoland’s largest labor-management organization that works to support a collaborative relationship between labor management personnel and to enhance the market share of union construction in northeastern Illinois.

Trades Day

Johnetta Ryan of CISCO (third from left) and five representatives from local trades unions pose for a picture at Waubonsie Valley High School.

This was an important opportunity for skilled labor and the trade programs. There’s a general lack of awareness among young people that the trades are even an option post-high school. High school students frequently assume that the only two options after graduation are either a four-year college or the military. And while both of these are certainly honorable choices, they are not the end-all, be-all of career paths.

Today’s teens haven’t been exposed to the benefits of the trades the same way we, our parents or even grandparents were. Coupled with a “there’s an app for that” culture that piques popular interest, Generation Z is simply not interested in physically demanding and difficult trade work. We can all relate to the uncertainties surrounding our impending futures that we felt as teenagers. It was Labor United’s goal to alleviate some of that pressure by articulating the importance of the trades as a potential career path. It is intelligent and valuable work that contributes to society and gives individuals the tools to lead a successful career.


The presentation opened up with discussing the general requirements for aspiring apprentices. All trades, including carpentry, hold all applicants to the same baseline standards. The students were understandably surprised to find that they either possessed or soon would possess the qualities unions are looking for and on which they would be tested. As we know, the following are non-negotiables for apprenticeship program eligibility:

  1. Must be 18 years of age
  2. Must have a high school diploma
  3. Must have a valid Illinois driver’s license and vehicle
  4. Must reside in one of these counties: Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Iroquois, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry or Will
  5. Must have a Social Security card (or proof of applying)
  6. Must pass a drug test
  7. Must pass a proficiency test
  8. Must be physically fit to work in the trades

Most importantly, one has to have the desire to make a career out of their chosen craft. Just like any sport, job or personal endeavor, the drive to succeed comes from within.

The students were then briefed on the 25 trades underneath CISCO. Representatives from five union organizations were present to speak on their specific trade: sheet metal, carpentry, bricklaying, HVAC and electrical. It was good for the students to see that union leaders not only support Trades Day, but each other. Although each has a different specialization, unions are bound by the same underpinning principles that enable them to do the work they do. The floor then opened up for questions regarding the trades, apprenticeship program requirements and union work overall. It was beneficial for us to hear the students’ perspectives of unions in order to better the way we promote our work. Questions arose such as “Why do union workers strike?” showing a sharpness and eagerness to learn what we hope for in all our applicants.

Students’ ears perked up when the union reps began talking about wages. Money isn’t everything in life, but we can all agree it comes in handy when you’re trying to assert your independence. These apprentice programs pay students for their attendance and participation. Eyes widened at the thought of not only making their own money, but making money for attending school and far surpassing earnings of an average person their age.

Of course, This doesn’t come without successfully completing their training. The students soon learned that a career in the trades requires just as much dedication as any other career. Apprenticeship programs for carpentry, for example, are four years, with nine weeks of pre-apprentice training. We combine the best of class subjects (safety, math, print reading, carpentry topics) with shop projects (safety, layout, concrete forms, wood framing, metal framing and drywall), ensuring all apprentices are well-taught and well-versed in all facets of general construction and interior systems.

Hands-on experience is vital to their success: apprentices spend one-third of their day in class and the rest in the shop. Pre-Apprentice class work includes ongoing quizzes and tests along with homework assignments. So, students are not completely out of the woods yet when it comes to tests and homework, but they are in a trade they enjoy and from which they’re getting tangible returns.


We reiterated that work in the trades involves numerous opportunities to advance and move upward, including owning your own company. As you learn and officially begin as a journeyman, you will take other apprentices under your wing, passing on your expertise to the next wave of skilled workers. We are all helping our trade by helping each other.

It’s always gratifying to see how a conversation about trade work tends to shift to talking about life. Every one of us alluded to the visceral truth that working in the trades helps you grow professionally and personally. Gospel truths of leading a meaningful life come to light: personal accountability, dedication, teamwork and hard work ethic. They give young people opportunities to provide for themselves while obtaining valuable life skills, building confidence in their ability to think critically.

It was our goal to impart knowledge and open up students’ minds to new possibilities of what a career in the trades means. As much as the world changes around them, the need for the skills learned in the trades will not only persist but grow. We left feeling uplifted and encouraged by the positive reception of the trades, and look forward to seeing how these bright young adults apply themselves in the future.

Wish to know more about the skilled labor movement? Contact Labor United here if you’re interested in joining our cause!