Enthusiasm filled Brett Easter when he described whether people should consider becoming an apprenticeship carpenter as he did shortly after graduating from high school.
“Absolutely, go for it,” Easter said during a brief break from a recent class at the Kent-based Northwest Carpenters Institute of Washington. “I was able to buy my first home before I could buy my first beer.”
Easter, 22, of Enumclaw, grew up in Covington and graduated in 2019 from Kentlake High School. A friend recommended he try the carpenter apprenticeship program.
“This career is lucrative enough that I bought my own house at 20 in Enumclaw,” Easter said. “That’s how I ended up out there.”
An apprentice with no experience makes $30.86 per hour with full benefits and a pension paid by the contractor, said Marianna Hyke, outreach coordinator for Northwest Carpenters Institute. If the apprentice meets minimum work hours and class requirements every six months, the pay jumps 5%. Once the apprentice moves up to journeyman, pay can reach $51 per hour.
Northwest Carpenters Institute has about 1,800 apprentices across the state, Hyke said. In addition to the Kent training center, 20424 72nd Ave. S., the program has facilities in Renton at Renton Technical College and in DuPont, Burlington, Kennewick and Spokane.
About 40 apprentices per month enter the program, which is four years for most of the jobs. The jobs include carpenter, millwright, pile driver, drywall finisher, trade show specialist, scaffold erector and interior systems carpenter.
Easter spends most of the program working job sites. Apprentices also must attend a certain number of classes or training courses with most completing the program in four years.
Although he works drywall now, Easter previously did framing. Those skills have taken him to a variety of job sites. He worked on new construction at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle University and the Amazon towers in Bellevue. He recently worked for a smaller construction company at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort.
“Some guys did remodeling at the Space Needle or you could be in your hometown remodeling a Starbucks,” Easter said.
Martinze Johnson, 30, of Seattle, has just one year left in the apprenticeship program. A friend helped him get into the program. He’s done drywall and lots of framing.
“We do Google buildings, Microsoft buildings, lots of apartments, towers,” Johnson said. “Microsoft in Redmond is like 88 acres with multiple buildings.”
Johnson likes working on the high towers, especially a 40-story building on Denny Way in Seattle.
“You can see the whole city light up,” Johnson said. “It might be a little cold, but there’s a feeling you can get when the world seems calm when you are working 40 stories up. I fell in love with it.”
Johnson encouraged others to apply for the apprenticeship program.
“I think for the younger people you need a trade under your belt and nobody can take it from you,” Johnson said. “It’s like a degree from a four-year college, once you get it nobody can take it from you and you can go anywhere in the world.
“Trades are the best way to go if you don’t want to go to school, it’s basically hands on. You learn what you’re going to do and then apply it.”
State L&I grant
Northwest Carpenters Institute recently received a $782,875 grant from state Labor & Industries (L&I), according to a L&I press release.
More than $4.7 million in state grants is going out to support apprenticeships around the state this year, according to a L&I spokesperson. The grant amounts are based on the size of the program.
“These funds will improve apprenticeship technology, and ensure apprentices have access to the support they need to be successful,” said Celeste Monahan, assistant director of Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards. “We’re very excited for these organizations and look forward to others participating.”
There are about 200 registered apprenticeship programs in the state, according to L&I. More than 22,000 people participate in the programs, which cover some 220 occupations.
Marianna Hyke, the outreach coordinator for Northwest Carpenters Institute, applied for the grant.
“Obviously, excited,” Hyke said about her reaction to receiving the funds. “We go after a lot of grants. That’s how we fund our program. We had never gone after a grant focused on apprenticeship and remote learning, technology and support services.
“When we found out we were awarded $782,000, it’s something to get pumped up about. We were very honored.”
It’s the largest lump sum grant the group has received. The funds will be used to purchase crossed laminated timber material and equipment, virtual welders, new laptops, gas cards, work attire, work boots, rain gear and for help with union dues.
Northwest Carpenters also will use the funds to buy a 200-ton carry deck crane for the facility to help carpenters and pile driving apprentices when they participate in their classes.
Hyke said they work with community colleges, school districts and LGBTQ and Black, Indigenous and people of color groups to help find program applicants.
“We live in a pretty progressive area,” Hyke said about job opportunities for all people. “Seattle, King County, Sound Transit and WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) project contracts require to hire a certain percentage of people of color and people from economically distressed zip codes.”
Hyke said a lot of the economically distressed zip codes are in Kent.
Applicants must be at least 17 years old. They do not need a high school diploma or GED but Hyke said they encourage everyone to get a high school degree.
Applicants will fill out information online and select a trade orientation based on the craft applied for. At orientation, the applicant will be evaluated and scored on a math test as well as moving materials, hammering so many nails and taking measurements. Those scores will decide if the applicant moves to an interview.
“This is a life-changing career opportunity,” Hyke said.