Meet a Sheet-Metal Apprentice Who Says the Job is His ‘Unknown Calling.’ He Makes $24 an Hour and Can Provide for His Family While He Learns the Trade.
January 29, 2021
By Madison Hoff
After graduating high school early, Nathan Allred went to a local technical college in Georgia at 17. But he ended up dropping out after the first year.
“The classroom environment was just not for me,” Allred, 24, told Insider. “It wasn’t hands-on enough. It didn’t keep me engaged enough, and plus I was paying money to go to it.”
After trying a few positions, he said, he found himself in a “dead-end job” and became worried. He asked his dad if there were any openings where he worked as a foreman. Fortunately, R.F. Knox Company needed a custodian, and Allred took the job.
After a few weeks of Allred sweeping floors, the shop superintendent told Allred that he could start working as a union sheet-metal pre-apprentice. Now Allred is starting his second semester as a third-year sheet-metal apprentice. He’s seen his pay increase each year, earning about $16.50 an hour in his first year and making about $24 an hour in his third year.
Allred’s journey represents an increasingly attractive avenue for workers grappling with the US’s historic labor shortage. Americans have been quitting in record numbers, and the rate of job openings has been high in recent months. Additionally, the US has had a skilled-trade shortage since before the pandemic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that skilled trades are among the industries set to keep growing over the next decade. It anticipates plenty of openings for plumbers, electricians, and sheet-metal workers because of people leaving for other jobs. And as the trades workforce ages, older workers’ retirement should create opportunities for younger ones.
“I’m able to raise my family,” Allred said. “I love what I do, and I just work with a great group of people, and I have my career set.”
Allred told Insider about his experience as an apprentice and why he thinks people questioning their jobs amid the Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffle or young Americans still planning out their career paths may want to consider a skilled-trade apprenticeship.
“I say if you find out college isn’t for you, you don’t learn that way, you’d rather learn hands-on — stay out of student debt, try out a trade,” he said.
Apprenticeships can offer hands-on experience and on-the-job training
Allred said he’d been able to learn from journeymen, taking advantage of gaining experience from different generations at work.
“That’s why I pushed the apprenticeship so much to my younger cousins or my younger friends who are unsure of what they want to do, because there’s guys on their way out who are about to retire, and we’re going to need people to fill those gaps and learn those things before they leave,” he said.
Allred added: “It’s just cool to learn generations’ worth of knowledge and then put it to use, and just to create things that go into hospitals, sports arenas, different things like that.”
Apprenticeship programs may be of interest to people throwing in the towel and quitting their jobs
Millions of Americans have quit their jobs during the pandemic, with the US reaching a record of 4.5 million quits in November.
People who are looking to make a career switch out of a corporate job or who want a more hands-on job may want to look into becoming an apprentice in a skilled trade.
“More employees are exercising the choice to transition to look for better jobs that have higher wages, better working conditions, benefits, more job security — and apprenticeships are all about jobs with those kinds of characteristics in them,” Julie Su, the deputy secretary of labor, told Insider in an interview in November around National Apprenticeship Week.
Allred said that now would be a “perfect time” to make the move into a sheet-metal apprenticeship.
“You have job security in the sheet-metal industry,” he said, adding, “People are always going to need AC units.”
Allred said working a trade was an ‘unknown calling’ for him
“I never expected to see myself in a trade,” Allred said, “but with the way I’ve handled learning things and the way I handled myself through school and things like that, and learning all sorts of different machines, I feel like it was an unknown calling that I just so happened to stumble upon.”
He said a highlight was working with the spiral machine, which creates spiral pipe duct using coils typically of stainless steel, galvanized steel, or aluminum.
“I’ve been on that machine for maybe just over a year and a half now,” he said. “And that part of the apprenticeship is super special to me because before I did the spiral machine, my dad was the one that was running it before he was a foreman.”
He also emphasized his welding work’s real-world installation. “That’s been really cool to just see something you made completely by hand go out and be put to use,” he said.
Allred said the perks for him included health-insurance benefits, great pay, and the ability to learn the trade without debt from college loans.
“All those benefits, it’s just been huge to me,” he said. “And it made me very happy with where I’m at and how I’m able to provide for my family.”