Skilled Trades Apprenticeships: Building a Future-proof Workforce

In 2016, Joe Wesley was rethinking his career choice. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in sports management, he was running a health and fitness club. But he wanted something more hands-on and wanted to build things. The opportunity to do both began when he joined the Lee Contracting family as an electrical shop assistant in October 2017.

“It was kind of a culture shock,” Wesley said. “When I started, I didn’t even know what a wing nut was. I was 27 at the time and was working with 23-year-olds that were already foremen.”

Right Time, Right Choice

Wesley couldn’t have picked a better time to enter the construction industry. The availability of skilled trades jobs far exceeds the number of qualified workers available to fill critical positions.

Faced with this challenge, Lee Contracting decided the best way to combat the shortfall was to increase investment in upskilling current team members, along with enhancing the training of new employees through apprenticeships. Lee’s first venture into apprenticeships was the registration of an electrician program with the Department of Labor in 2010.

The Value of Apprenticeships

Lee knows that investing in their employees and training in-house builds value for each team member and the company at large. Taking advantage of mentorships from skilled journeymen while earning a solid wage is a testimony to Lee’s use of career pathing. Career pathing defines an employee’s career trajectory at the outset, identifying the skills and experience an employee must possess for a successful and rewarding job experience. Career pathing at Lee is comprehensive in that it includes opportunities to learn multiple skills and work outside a particular trade.

Apprenticing at Lee is not only for new hires. An experienced pipefitting foreman recently joined the program because he wanted to demonstrate how apprenticeships help employees reach their career goals.

The Lee Approach

Today, Lee Contracting conducts apprenticeship programs in electrical, pipefitting and HVAC. Lee has partnered with Southeast Michigan Construction Academy (SEMCA) and Grand Rapids Community College to provide classroom training for electricians. Additionally, Lee has teamed up with Macomb Community College to offer classroom work for pipefitting and HVAC. Lee covers the costs for tuition and related books/materials, and program participants repay a minimal portion via payroll deductions to encourage program engagement.

Lee apprenticeships mentor and nurture employees on their way to journeyman status. During the program, participants’ skills are continually challenged based on the job they are completing. The programs include both classroom and on-the-job training:

  • Electrical: 4 years, 8,000 hours on the job, 576 hours in the classroom
  • Pipefitter: 4 years, 8,000 hours on the job, 576 hours in the classroom
  • HVAC: 3 years, 6,000 hours on the job, 432 hours in the classroom

Skilled trades apprenticeships allow students to develop new skills while receiving guaranteed wage increases and preparing them for successful careers and opportunities for promotions. The programs take participants through a structured curriculum that aligns with industry standards for high-demand occupations. Roughly 28% of Lee employees have completed apprenticeships since the program began.

Apprenticeship Qualifications

Persons interested in a Lee apprenticeship must meet the minimum qualifications for acceptance into their program of choice:

  • Applicants must be at least 18 years of age.
  • A high school diploma or GED equivalency is required. Applicant must provide an official transcript(s) for high school and post high school education and training. All GED records must be submitted if applicable.
  • Applicants must submit a DD-214 to verify military training/experience if they are a veteran and wish to receive consideration for such training/experience.
  • Applicants will be physically capable of performing the essential functions of the apprenticeship program, with or without reasonable accommodation, and without posing a direct threat to the health and safety of the individual or others.
  • A valid driver’s license is required due to having to travel to customer sites intra or inter-state that will require the operation of a company vehicle.
  • Applicants must submit to a criminal background check and Motor Vehicle Report.

All Lee apprentices receive full pay at or above established federal and/or state guidelines for apprentices in that respective trade. As employees, they are also eligible for full benefits on the first day of the month following 60 days of employment, including:

  • Comprehensive Training Programs
  • Paid Holidays Upon Hire
  • Competitive Medical, Dental, and Vision Insurance
  • HSA with Employer Contribution
  • Paid Time Off
  • Company Paid Short-Term Disability & Life Insurance
  • Safety Bonus Program
  • Employee Stock Ownership Program
  • Work Travel Incentive
  • Holiday Bonus

Developing Future Leaders

Lee is committed to everyday excellence in all facets of its business operations. Apprenticeship opportunities reinforce this commitment by providing a strong foundation of training, mentorship and regular feedback. Successful program completion helps forge graduates into quality journeymen who will eventually become the next generation of leaders and mentors.

Wesley, an Electrical Foreman since February 2022, looks back on his apprenticeship experience. “It’s been a fun ride, for sure, and I’ve had a lot of help along the way,” he said. “There are a lot of smart guys at Lee and anytime I got to work with them, learn from them, it was a good day.”

An apprenticeship with Lee Contracting can open doors to some of the greatest opportunities in the construction industry. Learn more by contacting us today.