“College isn’t for everyone” – Chicago Tribune
Quintin Scott graduated from Crane Medical Prep High School in Chicago on Sunday with a head start on becoming a professional welder and a direct pipeline to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
The two met in March at a job fair in McCormick Place, where Lightfoot passed Scott his phone number and encouraged him to stay in touch.
Scott’s teacher, Robert Green, said he asked Scott to see those numbers. “He said, ‘Oh no, Mr. Green, I can’t show you that number,'” Green recalled with a chuckle. “I said, ‘You’re a smart kid, man.'”
Scott became the face of Chicago Builds, a Chicago Public Schools two-year construction training program for upperclassmen. He plans to forgo thousands of dollars in college scholarship offers to complete a five-year apprenticeship program with Chicago Pipefitters Local 597. If he completes the program and becomes a journeyman, Scott could earn $54 per hour.
CPS expects 32 Chicago Builds students to graduate this year, 26 of whom will enter trades or further education. Those who have worked with Scott say he stands out among this group because of his maturity, work ethic and commitment to welding.
“He’s a rare person. He is devoted. He is motivated. I mean, he’s everything you’d expect in a worker,” said Local 597 Admissions Director Adam Sutter.
Sutter said his co-workers told him, “You gotta have more kids like this around here.”
Chicago Builds dates back to 2016, when the Board of Education approved its launch at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy. The program is intended to serve 120 students each school year, half from Dunbar and the other half from outside Bronzeville High School. The capital budget for the 2016–17 school year included $4.4 million for new labs and equipment for Chicago Builds, at the time called Chicago’s first comprehensive commercial program.
Isaac Carter, former director of the Chicago Builds campus, said the initiative was the brainchild of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Representative Bobby Rush. They wanted to develop a talent pool for the construction industry and create more options for graduate students. Dunbar was chosen as the program’s home, Carter said, because of its roots as a vocational technical school and its central location. Students spend part of their day at their own high school and travel to Dunbar to take these classes.
“I think the hardest thing was getting the word out to different schools in the district and figuring out how do we break down the transportation barriers? … At what times of the day should you host it? How does this fit into the different bell schedules in the district? said Carter, who left CPS last year to work with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency in Michigan.
There are now 82 students at Chicago Builds, which costs $1 million a year to operate, according to CPS.
In their first year, teens take an introductory construction course and rotate 10 weeks in each of the career paths: electrical, carpentry, heating and air conditioning, and welding.
Practical instruction proved challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic when CPS buildings were closed.
The district was away for most of Scott’s junior year, his first year at Chicago Builds. Green said while other students struggled to learn from home, Scott showed up to class, turned on his camera, paid attention and participated. The first courses focus on how to use the machines safely.
Another key element of Chicago Builds is the summer work experience between first and second year. Scott interned last summer with the Pipefitters Union, where Sutter said he “blew him out of the water.” They were immediately impressed with him. Scott said he “did everything they asked of me” including cutting pipes, working with different saws and cleaning around shops. The union even hired him full-time for an extra month after his internship.
Scott applied for the Pipefitters apprenticeship program, where pay would start at around $22 an hour. Sutter said acceptances for the class beginning in July will be announced soon. Scott has “a very, very good chance of being selected,” Sutter said.
The CPS said Scott — a college basketball player who boasts a 3.14 GPA — received about a dozen college acceptance letters, including a few offering a scholarship for a combined amount. of $215,000. The Auburn Gresham resident said he chose pipe fitters over college because he was familiar with the training.
“College isn’t for everyone,” Scott said. The trades are “another career path to consider”.
Trade publication Industrial Safety and Hygiene News reported in 2019 that there were nearly half a million more jobs available in the skilled trades than there were workers with the skills to fill those positions. This number is expected to increase to 2 million within a decade.
Application for fall entry into Chicago Builds is open to rising 11th and 12th graders. The paperwork is due June 30. There are no minimum academic requirements for admission, although priority is given to rising juniors.
South Shore resident Mekyel Applewhite, who graduated from the Chicago Builds program in 2018, said he had been in a five-year apprenticeship program with IBEW Local 134 for aspiring electricians for three years. Applewhite said he recently bumped into a former Chicago Builds student at work. He called the program life changing.
“I wouldn’t say I didn’t want to go to college, but I didn’t want to rush into getting a lot of loans and stuff. So that was a great path for me because I started making money – more money than I had ever made,” Applewhite said, noting that he was making over 62 000 dollars per year.
“It’s something new every day. You never do the same. It’s like an endless learning experience.