Construction trades seek to attract drug-free workers

Students in club being encouraged to attend trades career fair

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON DOUG GIFFIN, left, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland, who also operates the Belmont County Staying Clean Club, hold a flyer promoting the March 30 Construction Job & Career Fair in Wheeling. They are encouraging drug-free teens to consider a job in a trade as a career.

MARTINS FERRY — The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hopes to inspire local teens who are staying drug free to consider a career in one of the construction trades.

Doug Giffin, president of the IBEW, has teamed up with Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland, who operates the Belmont County Staying Clean Club, in an effort to get teens interested in such jobs. They are encouraging members of the club to attend the upcoming Construction Job & Career Fair, slated from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. March 30 at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.

The annual event features presentations and demonstrations by local building trades and contractors.

“The Upper Ohio Building Trades takes drug-free applicants, which is all the construction crafts, everything from operating engineers to pipefitters, electricians, cement masons, block layers, iron workers, sheet metal workers, basically all construction crafts,” he said. “John has kids involved in drug-free programs, and we offer good-paying jobs with benefits. One of our requirements is that workers be drug and alcohol free.”

Giffin conceded the trades sometimes have a difficult time finding workers who are drug-free — all the more reason to try and attract students from the club to consider an apprenticeship in a trade.

“We offer a pathway for kids who decide not to go to college to earn a pretty decent living right here in the Ohio Valley,” Giffin said. “Myself, I’m pretty proud of what John has done for kids here in the Ohio Valley.”

Giffin said those who work in trades typically make between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.

“We’re hoping the seniors who aren’t sure what career path they are going to take out of high school (will) attend this function and possibly find something they are interested in,” McFarland said. “They are taking a step in the right direction already by being drug free.”

Giffin noted while the pay often is good, the trades can be challenging.

“We realize it’s not for everybody. Sometimes you are out in the freezing cold and snow, other times you are in 90-degree temperatures. Heights are definitely a factor,” Giffin said. “Safety is a big priority, but sometimes you are up several stories in the air, other times you are underground digging ditches and putting pipe in the ground. … As far as pipefitters go, sometimes they are 30 feet in the air welding mechanical pipe together. It’s not always the best atmosphere.”

Once accepted into an apprenticeship program, Giffin said there is no cost to the student for training. An apprentice works a 40-hour week and then has class usually two nights a week. Most apprenticeships last five years.

“We have instructors who instruct the students and give tests and homework, just as if you are in a college class, but you are learning specifics to your training,” Giffin said. “During the day you go out and apply it to the work you do.”

McFarland added, “You can have a pretty good life in one of these jobs and in one of these fields.”

Giffin said if the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant comes to fruition south of Shadyside, “we will need every local person we can with hands-on skills and abilities.”

“If that thing takes off, it will change the Ohio Valley,” he said. “You will see industry pop up all around this. … We’ve been told there will be 20,000 construction jobs very easily for five years and then all the spin-off jobs that come with it. … The fact they have spent $100 million in engineering already says a lot. We were excited when they announced they might build this $5.5 billion cracker plant.”

If the cracker plant construction happens, it will help revive the Ohio Valley, Giffin added.

“Some of the things you will see change, you are going to see vacant houses go away. When we were kids growing up in Martins Ferry, we had a thriving industry. Every house had new roofs, new siding, new front doors, all painted up nice, grass and shrubs cut. … All those houses were impeccably nice. As you lost industry and good-paying jobs, now I walk through the same neighborhoods and say, ‘I remember what that house used to be, I remember what this neighborhood used to be like.’ I think the one thing the valley does need is industry. That’s the only way you’re going to have more than a minimum wage-paying job. It needs a boost in the arm. If you position yourself to be in a field that is going to bring you money and the valley money, it’s all good,” Giffin said.

Giffin and McFarland both graduated from Martins Ferry High School, where they played sports together.