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Do Trade Unions Fulfill the American Dream for Millennials?

Millennials want what Baby Boomers want. Baby Boomers want what Gen Xers want. It seems that, despite the controversy over young folks becoming more and more self-centered in their jobs, Millennials aren’t really that much different than other generations — just quicker to leave if they don’t get what they want.

And what do they want? A sense of purpose.

The biggest difference between the generations is that Baby Boomers felt beholden to their employers and would work for 20 years, regardless of purpose, advancement or even fair pay. Millennials want purpose, pay, appreciation, a chance for advancement and work/life balance. And they will leave a job quickly if they don’t feel those needs are being met.

Trade unions have traditionally offered members a sense of brotherhood. They join together for the good of the members, bargaining for pay increases, benefits and vacation time. They gather together to engage in volunteer projects and family get-togethers. They legitimately care about the welfare of their members.

Of course, unions are not employers. They simply supply the workforce to contractors who must adhere to the union standard for the above-mentioned rewards. There are clearly contractor employers who compensate their employees with good work environments, appreciation and community involvement — and those who don’t.

However, at the end of the day, the worker is a member of a group that supports them. The union is there to fight for them if they have a grievance against their employer and negotiate in their behalf to get that pay increase they feel they deserve. Union brothers and sisters provide moral support and appreciation for a worker’s contribution to their job and their union. The union offers advanced training opportunities that allow workers to progress in their careers — training in high-tech areas, like augmented reality and drone operation. The stuff of the future.

But are Millennials even aware that union training and fulfilling careers are available? Much of their education has focused on college preparation. Yet, a large percentage of students going to college will never earn their degree. Even vocational high schools are in the business of directing their students into college programs, like engineering and construction management, instead of the trades themselves.

Students who do earn a degree may do so with $40,000+ in student loans to pay back. The average starting salary for a college graduate is roughly $50,000 a year. The average starting salary for a journeyman pipefitter is roughly $50,000 a year — without any college expenses at all. Apprenticeships in the union are 100 percent cost-free.

So why aren’t more students choosing the skilled trades as a career option? A nationwide survey found that students are not interested in the trades for a number of reasons, among them: a lack of knowledge about the trades, a desire to work with computers, a belief that the trades are not high-tech enough and they don’t think there is enough opportunity in the trades.

We have known for some time that our education system is geared toward directing young people into college. Our Millennial generation graduates from high school are unaware that the skilled trades ARE working in a high-tech environment, using computers to operate interactive ebooks, AutoCad II (3D) and robotics. In addition to meeting their need for support, opportunity, good pay and benefits, skilled trade unions offer high-tech work that can change the world.

The need to educate young people about the exponential new possibilities in construction careers is unlike any recruitment needs of the past. It’s a re-education of our youth — and our society — about what construction jobs look like today. To a generation looking for purpose in life, skilled trade unions just may be the answer.

For information about apprenticeship programs in the plumbing and pipefitting trade, contact Matt Lienen, Local Union 25 training coordinator, at (309) 788-4159 x3 or