Y-12 ATLC members encourage students to consider careers in skilled crafts and trades
At an age when many teenagers are into hot rods, high school senior Aaron would rather “burn rods.” So would Travis Scott, the Y-12 National Security Complex’s welder chief steward. The pair recently met up at Anderson County Career and Technical Center for some shop talk.
“I like the fulfillment of working with my hands, taking welding rods and making something of use. I like the tradition of the craft,” said Aaron, a student in the welding program at ACCTC whose stepfather is a contract welder and whose great-grandfather was a welder who helped construct Norris Dam.
Scott encouraged Aaron to pursue the family profession, as demand for skilled craft and trades is growing across the country and at Y-12.
As part of the site’s workforce development outreach, Scott and other Y-12 members of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council recently visited ACCTC and Midway High School in Roane County to talk with students interested in a craft and technical education.
The union leaders described their jobs and the training required and noted that college isn’t the only pathway to success. Scott, a Midway High School graduate, also shared a career lesson he learned from the school of hard knocks.
“In high school, I didn’t apply myself because I didn’t intend to go to college,” Scott said. “Senior year, I missed 17 days of school playing hooky, hunting and fishing. After high school, I applied to a welding training program. The interviewer looked at my transcripts and said, ‘Son, you’ve missed 17 days of school. You’re applying to a school right now. Why should I accept you?’”
That experience, Scott said, served as a wake-up call. He said that, at the time, he didn’t realize how his seemingly inconsequential decision to skip school would affect future work opportunities. It’s one of the messages he and other Y-12 ATLC members wanted to impart to students.
Other messages included the necessity of living drug-free, the importance of math and science in crafts and trades, having a well-thought-out career plan, participating in training and certification programs offered by the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and area community colleges, and seeking out mentors and apprenticeship opportunities at Y-12 and local unions.
Y-12’s Mike Thompson, ATLC president and another Midway graduate, urged students to consider paid apprenticeships and noted the payoffs of investing in a craft and technical education. “Apprenticeships offered by Y-12 and local unions allow you to work during the day and attend classes at night,” he said. “Many complete apprenticeships debt-free with money in their pocket.
“Careers in the crafts and trades provide the ability to sustain a rewarding career,” Thompson said. “They provide the capability to make good wages, have good benefits, and raise a family.”
Several Y-12 craftspersons pointed out that there will be heavy competition for the craft and trades jobs opening up at the site over the next few years. They noted that having training, certifications, and experience could make the difference in obtaining one of these positions.
“Skilled craft is in high demand, so you’ve got to get in the game,” said Tim Milligan, Y-12 air conditioning and refrigeration chief steward. “Y-12 takes the best of the best, and a lot of people want these well-paying jobs.”
After the ATLC talk at ACCTC, Aaron reinforced his desire to “make something of myself” and continue his technical education after graduation this spring. “Hopefully, one day I’ll make a good welder,” he said.
Through a partnership between Y-12 and the ATLC, 97 Y-12 employees have graduated from the site’s apprenticeship program since the program was reinstituted in 2008. The apprentices completed their schooling either through local unions or, in the case of the machinist apprentices, through Pellissippi State Community College.
More than 400 skilled craftspersons and professionals joined the Uranium Processing Facility project at Y-12 in 2018 in the first wave of construction hiring. The project will continue to hire throughout fiscal year 2019, peaking at about 2,200 craftspersons and professionals in 2020.