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About Your Future: Why College May Not Be the Only Way

Two Hoosiers tell their stories about sheet metal work

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.--You were probably encouraged to go to college while you were in high school and some people might've even said that it's the only route to a good paying job and a desirable future. There are other paths to success, though, say some people in the sheet metal industry, where apprenticeships are up and people are able to train while they work and incur no debt.

The US Department of Labor has announced the second annual National Apprentice week from November 14-20. According to US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, apprenticeships are experiencing a modern renaissance in America.

Perez called apprenticeship “the other college,” and while the college graduates of 2016 accrued an average debt of $37,172 – the highest in history – sheet metal apprentices start their careers from the first day, with raises every six months, and graduate without burden. 

In Indianapolis, two apprentices who spoke to WIBC both had different paths in mind when they started out.

Catie Rogers is the only female in apprenticeship with the local union. She had in mind being a journalist when she was in college.

"It's been a very good experience for me. Sheet metal is my whole life now," she said.

Rogers said she first got interested in metal work while she was in high school and watched her siblings go into debt to pay for college.

"My family didn't have very much money. I didn't have a college fund from when I was little. I'd have to pay for it myself."

Rogers said that's when she started taking a welding class at school and fell in love with it.

For Butler University grad Eric Slone it was frustration that led to his apprenticeship. He said that he spent a year trying to find a job as a teacher after getting his degree before he went into his apprenticeship.

"Actually while I was making money through the apprenticeship I was paying back my student loans that didn't really pan out," said Slone, who is the father of a newborn.

"It's a fast-paced environment and I've had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of other things, not just welding, but try out other positions in the shop," said Slone.

He said that anyone who is considering which career path they may choose should weigh their choices carefully, and not jump into anything too quickly.

The sheet metal apprenticeship is one of the oldest in the country. There are currently 14,000 apprentices across the United States.

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