Home » Nailed it: Carpenters union training facility in Richfield helps fill jobs, build careers – Akron Beacon Journal

Nailed it: Carpenters union training facility in Richfield helps fill jobs, build careers – Akron Beacon Journal

by Arifa Rana

Brook Karnosh’s career move involves shifting from working on one of the world’s largest warships to woodworking as a carpenter.
Karnosh, a 26-year-old Green resident who grew up in Brimfield, enrolled in the Navy after high school and became a machinist mate mechanic alongside about 6,000 other sailors aboard the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier. 
“I turned 18 and left for boot camp two weeks later,” Karnosh recalled. Working on the Nimitz taught her to pay attention to detail and focus on getting the job done. Good thing, too: The Nimitz’s two nuclear power plants were part of her responsibilities.
After four years of active Navy duty and traveling the world, she returned to Ohio, went into the reserves and got jobs in the private sector, including at Welty Building Co. As she looked for direction in her life, Karnosh found she likes carpentry.
She is now focusing on finishing training at the Northeast Ohio Carpenters’ Training Center in Richfield. The union training facility, a key part of the Ohio Carpenters’ Joint Apprenticeship & Training Program, is honing her skills and techniques aimed in part at helping her and others in skilled trades program get better-paying jobs.
“I have one more class and I’m done,” Karnosh said.
The facility where she is learning is one of four run by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners union in Ohio. The Richfield campus, with 58,000 square feet of indoor area and 28,000 square feet of outdoor training area, is the largest of the group. The other facilities are in Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati. Overseeing all is a board made up of union members and contractors.
The Richfield facility is not only teaching people skills but also helping businesses find badly needed workers in a labor market that has way more job openings than job fillers. 
Still, it takes time to go through the program. Hundreds of union apprentices and journeymen graduate annually; there are more than 1,000 apprentices currently enrolled in Richfield and about another 1,400 in the other three training sites.
“This is a four-year apprenticeship program here,” said Abram Bruner, representative for the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters. He helps oversee the Richfield facility.  
Bruner went through the program years ago as part of a career change.
“You come four times a year, and you come a week at a time,” Bruner said. “We have millwrights, pile drivers, floor coverers, carpenters and residential carpenters as well.”
The first couple of classes cover basics, such as learning how to safely use power tools, Bruner said.
After that, “you sort of pick a path. I went commercial carpentry,” he said. “I learned how to do concrete work, bridge work, interior systems, which would be building walls and ceilings, touched on cabinets a little bit.”
For electives, Bruner said he picked classes that taught such things such as interior layout, “the way I wanted to go as a commercial carpenter.”
There are lots of opportunities now in carpentry and other skilled trades, Bruner said. That’s in part because of a large number of retirements that has helped feed the current labor shortage, he said.
“The room to move up in our industry is monumental right now,” Bruner said.
Carpentry jobs took a brief dip in the early part of the pandemic and then demand shot up as hospitals and businesses needed to install safety equipment and gear, he said. That, in turn, led to an increase in demand for training at the Richfield facility, he said. The facility staff found a way to move some of the classes, such as blueprint reading, online.
Travis Mariast, business representative for the union, said he chose the millwright path, which has him doing building upgrades, fixing and installing machinery, equipment and more. Millwrights got their name because they originally had jobs in mills. 
Millwrights such as himself can find jobs in the local steel industry, he said.
“We cover a huge area,” Mariast said.
Millwrights help keep steel plants and other facilities running longer with fewer breakdowns, he said. And the Richfield facility helps journeymen as well as apprentices learn the newest skills demanded by industry.
“Technology is a huge thing now for carpenters and for millwrights,” Mariast said. “We’re always adding curriculum in these programs.”
Graduates of the carpenter’s program can earn an associate degree in applied science from Cuyahoga Community College at no extra cost. All training and textbooks are free, which the program says is a $2,500 value each year per student.
The Richfield shops focus on carpentry, floors, millwrights, welding, millwork, interior systems and more, along with a technology center that teaches computer skills and blueprint reading to apprentices and journeymen.
Bruner said the carpenters union “is always trying to stay ahead of the curve. … We have new training in solar, because it’s going to be huge.”
Everything in the Richfield facility is paid for by union carpenters, Bruner said.
“We get no outside funding from the state or the federal government,” he said. “A percentage out of every hour that a carpenter works, he or she puts into our training fund. It pays for the walls, it pays for the textbooks, it pays for the pencils, it pays for the materials, it pays for the teachers as well.”
A journeyman carpenter at any time can come in and take what they call an after-hours upgrade class in such things as working with ceramic tile or now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious control training that many hospitals are requiring, Bruner and Mariast said.
“It’s all free,” Bruner said. The facility also will design a training program specifically for a contractor, he said. “It’s a working relationship between the contractors and us and the training center.”
To apply, a person needs to be at least 17 years old; they have had people as old as 50 enter the training program.
People can apply just by walking in but need to pass math and drug tests, and they also need a contractor sponsor, Bruner said. There are other ways to apply, including upon being discharged from the military and from other jobs programs, he said.
Dan Sustin, training coordinator at the Richfield training facility, found himself teaching a spiral staircase class one recent week because of an instructor’s vacation; among the students was Karnosh.
Sustin has been at the Richfield facility for about 15 years; when he started the facility had about 500 apprentices and now has more than double that.
The people in this particular staircase class were close to finishing their four-year apprenticeship, he said.
“So they’re problem solvers already,” he said. “They’re self-starters. They know what it takes to be a good carpenter. And all of them are well on their way.”
All of students have paying jobs, Sustin said.
“All of them have been working with their contractors for about four years. They start with a job,” he said. “After their first 90 days, they’ll come in for their first class. … So they’ve got a little bit of job site experience.”
The students get scheduled pay raises as part of the apprenticeship program based on completing classes and having the necessary work hours, he said. “It usually works out, every six months they get a pay raise.”
A new carpenter can start making about $17 an hour in the Akron area and $19 an hour in the Cleveland market, plus benefits, he said. Journeymen carpenters can make about $33 an hour in the Cleveland market, Bruner said.
Apprentices get scheduled for a 40-hour week of classes every quarter, Sustin said.
“All the other time, they’re working for their contractor,” he said. “Out in the field, they’re getting on-the-job training, getting experience, getting to know what they like doing, don’t like doing.”
Karnosh said while she had work experience from her time on the Nimitz and then in the private sector, she still found herself years ago looking for direction.
One of her cousins noted she liked working with wood and tools and said she should join the carpenters union. And that’s what she did.
Karnosh is one of relatively few women in the carpentry apprenticeship program. The union is actively working to recruit more women into the trades, Bruner and Mariast said.
Karnosh does doors, hardware and interior finish for her current employer, she said. 
She likes the work, and said she likes what she’s learning in the Richfield apprentice program.
“I’ve pretty much liked it all,” she said. “I really enjoy coming to school. I like all the instructors, get along with everybody. And they have a really good way of teaching people, even if the people don’t understand it. They’ll stay after school with you and help you. I’ve always really appreciated that. … Sometimes they’ll stay after two or three hours just to help people with math. It’s awesome.”
Being on the Nimitz helped teach her to do her job right and go home safe every night, she said.
“This is it for me, for sure. I actually like waking up and going to work in the morning,” Karnosh said. “I don’t think you ever stop learning.”
Jim Mackinnon covers breaking news and business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.


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