The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa trade worker registration increases, UI seeks students for pre-apprenticeship

Justin Mwandjalulu and Cole Eckhardt voice how they became passionate about their trades in carpentry and electrician.
John Charlson
Carpentry apprentices work on constructing scaffold during a class at the Five Rivers Carpenters JATC training facility in Cedar Rapids on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Justin Mwandjalulu, an Iowa City carpenter who believed he would attend a four-year university, never imagined he would find his passion in the carpentry trade when he first moved to the U.S.

An increased interest in joining the trade profession is not unique to Mwandjalulu. The University of Iowa Labor Center and apprenticeship programs across the state of Iowa have seen a growing interest in the pre-apprenticeship program offered by the UI and trades as a whole.

The center aims to recruit at least 30 new students annually to their pre-apprenticeship program, with 42 members having graduated from the program already. Robin Clark-Bennett, director at the UI Labor Center, said 29 percent of those graduates have been placed in apprenticeship programs since their graduation.

Additionally, the interest in joining the trade profession rather than receiving a four-year degree has grown across the state. According to Iowa Workforce Development, there are 10,289 active apprentices in the state of Iowa as of 2023 compared to 8,844 active apprentices in 2022. At the UI, 22,130 undergraduate students enrolled in the fall of 2023, a number that has increased by 27 students since 2022.

The apprenticeship program offers 15 different building trades, including electrician, plumber, pipe-fitter, and carpenter.

Paul Iversen, labor educator at the UI Labor Center, said the pre-apprenticeship program prepares future apprentices who are interested in joining the trade industry.

Iversen said the length of apprenticeships varies depending on the specific trade. Typically, the program ranges from three to five years.

“Most of what you learn through this program is on the job, and you don’t have to pay tuition but are essentially getting paid to work,” Iversen said.

Iversen attributed the increase in the trade profession to the high cost of attending a four-year college.

“There are so many people who go to college and handle a lot of student loan debt and often do not get the job they had studied for,” Iversen said.

Many have ended up in trades after college, Iversen said, and for those who are more inclined to work with their hands or are more kinesthetic learners, trades have allowed for a more satisfying career.

Cole Eckhardt, an electrician who is in the UI apprenticeship program, earned her two-year associate’s degree with the intention of earning a four-year degree. However, when she spoke with the Iowa City Federation of Labor, her interest in joining the trades was piqued.

Eckhardt began her journey at the UI Labor Center when she took a pre-apprenticeship class, hoping to gauge her interest in the profession.

From there, Eckhardt was recruited to a helper position, a position similar to an apprentice, in which Eckhardt became familiar with the work that goes into being an electrician apprentice.

“I got job site experience, and if you are in a more competitive trade, being a helper looks really good because it shows that you are familiar with the work,” Eckhardt said.

Iversen said once an individual has been admitted into the program, they are hired by a contract and begin working in the trade of their choice. Alongside the physical labor that comes with their trade, apprentices receive training where they are introduced to different aspects of their jobs and learn other skills beneficial to their trade.

Each apprentice is paired with a journeyman when they start their fieldwork. A journeyman, Iversen said, is a skilled worker who has been through the apprenticeship program.

Iversen said pay rates vary depending on the trade, with an average wage of $17-20 per hour for trade professions as a whole. Journeymen earn an average of $29-$40 an hour.

“There is a certain pride in knowing that you built that house or that building. Where there was once a brick wall, there might be something brand new there, and there is really a tremendous amount of pride in that,” Iversen said.

Eckhardt’s apprenticeship program has allowed her to gain a sense of community, particularly with the labor union she is affiliated with, IBEW Local 405.

“There is a lot of camaraderie and it is such a welcoming environment,” Eckhardt said.

In being a woman in the electrician trade, Eckhardt has found her community with many of the women in her profession, such as the Iowa Women in Trades, a network that helps Iowa women prepare and enroll for apprenticeship programs.

“There are a lot of really great women who have taken me under their wing and that makes me feel really grateful,” Eckhardt said.

RELATED: DITV: Local Businesses in Iowa City Fill the Trade Gap

Mwandjalulu said joining the trade helped him learn more about himself.

“The more you are building and working the more you learn on the job site and then you are never really afraid,” Mwandjalulu said.

Mwandjalulu said the job itself can be very taxing and that many people have come and gone, but the trade has been the place he has found himself.

“I could have done any trade, but I found myself in carpentry. You will find your people, your passion while doing this and you will create this big family,” Mwandjalulu said.

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About the Contributor
Shreya Reddy
Shreya Reddy, News Reporter
Shreya Reddy is a freshman at the University of Iowa. Coming from a small town in Kansas, Shreya is double majoring in English and Political Science on the Pre-Law track. Before coming to the Daily Iowan, she has written for her neighborhood magazine and her schools literary magazine as well as writing an investigative journalism piece.