KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WFRV) – A group of young people took a major step in becoming Northeast Wisconsin’s next generation of plumbers, HVAC, and pipe fabricating workers.

“It kind of reminds me of senior year when all the athletes go do their signing day in the library, so same thing just a little different,” says Brian Martinez who is one of the apprentices.

For the second year in a row, Plumbers and Steamfitters UA Local 400 and the Mechanical Contractors Association hosted an event celebrating the beginning of apprenticeships for 51 young people.

“When people get these apprenticeships, it’s a big deal and they weren’t getting recognized, but we thought they should be getting recognized,” explains Business Manager for UA 400 Trevor Martin.

Apprentices get paired with local contractors for a five-year paid program where they will get real-world experience and hands-on training. Apprentices leave the program without student debt.

Some apprentices have gone to technical school or taken trade skill classes in high school, but others are starting from scratch when they begin the program.

“It provides a new workforce for us and a trained and skilled workforce,” says Jeff Gaecke, who is the Executive Vice President for the Mechanical Contractors Association.

“People are going to stay and grow and live in this community, so it grows the community,” adds Martin.

Martin says pipe trade jobs are in high demand. He says these are also essential jobs and workers in this industry continued to work throughout the pandemic even as other professions paused or moved to at-home work.

In addition to getting to work with their contractors as part of the apprenticeship, these apprentices will have an opportunity to come to the UA 400 training center and work on their skills and get classroom instruction here as well.

“I can come here at night and take advantage of all the certifications and classes they offer on my own time and I think that’s a great advantage,” says Martinez.

Martinez will work for Beno Plumbing Inc. in Green Bay for his apprenticeship.

Martin estimates that about 95% of the students who enter this apprenticeship program complete it. UA Local 400 is made up of approximately 2,300 members serving 18 counties in Northeast Wisconsin. It’s affiliated with the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters which includes about 355,000 members in the United States and Canada.