Milwaukee is in the midst of an exciting construction boom with several landmark projects reshaping our city’s skyline. Ongoing development has delivered steady work and employment opportunities within the union construction industry. The lakefront’s newest addition, the Couture, has hundreds of tradespeople and apprentices working to complete the 44-story residential tower by April 2024.
Common Links Construction (CLC), a framing, drywall and painting subcontractor has been involved in the Couture project since late spring 2023. A number of their carpenters are currently on-site including first-year apprentices, Juan and Angel. CLC met Juan and Angel at last year’s Building Advantage Construction Career Fair where hundreds of local students learned about careers in construction through hands on activities. When asked about his career path, Juan said, “I joined the Trades because I’ve always liked to build things and work with my hands. I like being a carpenter apprentice because I’m learning how to frame, cut sheets and use a lot of new tools in the field.”
CLC has placed a larger focus on attending youth trade events and programs that help expose young people to careers in the trades. “When we find individuals that have the drive and desire to pursue a career in this field, we’re happy to be the starting point for their apprenticeship journey,” says Taylor Olson, Director of Marketing and Human Resource Development at Common Links Construction. “The Couture is providing our apprentices with essential learning opportunities and experiences that will help them to advance in their careers.”
Union registered apprenticeship is an ‘earn while you learn’ career path that relies on industry investment and partnership. Apprentices complete mandatory classroom and on-the-job training hours before they can earn their journeyperson card. These training programs are crucial to union construction’s longevity and value in the industry. According to a recent study, signatory contractors have proven to be 15% more productive than their non-Union counterparts because Union craftspeople receive superior training.
The Couture’s developer, Barrett-Lo Visionary Development, partnered with Union construction on past projects and has seen the value of a highly trained workforce. The Couture’s project labor agreement (PLA) ensures that only Union craftworkers and registered apprentices work on-site. In addition, the PLA also promotes DEI practices by ensuring that a percentage of apprentices, Milwaukee County residents, minority and women owned businesses and people of color are involved in the project. These requirements have had a major impact on the number of local tradespeople working in our city and jumpstarted careers for apprentices like Juan and Angel.
Mike Smarelli, Findorff’s General Superintendent overseeing the Couture, recognizes the project’s role as a career springboard for trades professionals. “From apprentices to seasoned field leaders, each individual has experienced personal growth throughout the project, fostering pride in their work and shaping their long-term careers.” Mike adds, “It’s rewarding to oversee The Couture and the impact this project has had on our local workforce right now and in the years to come.”
While the Couture is physically transforming our city, it’s also creating a profound impact on the Union construction industry’s workforce. This project has given contractors like Common Links and Findorff the opportunity to bring on new apprentices that will become the next generation of skilled tradespeople. Apprentices like Juan and Angel exemplify these efforts, showcasing how local projects can positively impact career growth and pride in their trade. As the Couture nears completion, it stands as a testament to Union construction’s commitment to investing in the workforce of tomorrow.
Building Advantage’s annual construction career fair is a critical industry investment that connects contractors, trade unions and high school students. This event may be the first time that students learn about careers in construction, talk about the benefits of a Union or participate in hands-on activities. For students like Juan and Angel who were already considering construction careers, the fair offers an opportunity to connect with contractors and trade representatives to initiate the apprenticeship process. The recent 2023 construction career fair saw an impressive turnout of 1,000 student attendees, providing them with a deeper understanding of Union construction careers.
Building Advantage and our partners look forward to ushering in new development that will continue to provide apprenticeship opportunities and employment for our existing tradespeople. To learn more about Building Advantage, visit buildingadvantage.org.