Pictured here, from left, are Jim Bunkelman, president and CEO of Royal Construction; apprentice Treyton Sloniker; Carrie Nielsen, office manager for Royal Construction and Treyton’s mother; and Leigh Emrick, apprenticeship director for ABC of Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE, WI – Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin on Thursday celebrated the state’s Youth Apprenticeship program and marked a milestone for a youth apprentice as he committed to an adult registered apprenticeship at Royal Construction in Eau Claire.

“Apprenticeship Signing Day” featured Treyton Sloniker, a 2018 graduate of Greenwood High School who began a youth apprenticeship with Royal Construction in April 2017. He will continue working as an adult apprentice in carpentry, obtaining his on-the-job training with Royal while attending class at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) in Rice Lake.

The event was intended to reflect an athletic signing day, where a high school athlete commits to a university. In this case, the signing day featured a written registered apprenticeship contract between ABC, the apprentice, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and the employer.

“Congratulations to Trey, who is setting an example of how the pathway to a great career in construction starts in high school, continues through the adult registered apprenticeship program, and will set him up for an excellent future,” said Elizabeth Roddy, director of workforce development and training for ABC of Wisconsin.

“Trey will not spend the next decade figuring out how he wants to begin his career,” Roddy added. “Trey can expect to graduate with valuable skills, a satisfying, hands-on occupation, and little or no school debt. Perhaps most importantly, Trey will be in demand.”

During Thursday’s event, Roddy said construction contractors are struggling to find enough qualified employees to fill open positions and keep up with demand, noting an estimated 1 million new skilled workers will be needed in the United States by the year 2020. ABC of Wisconsin believes youth apprenticeship presents a vital opportunity to help address the skilled worker shortage while encouraging high school students to consider family sustaining careers in the building trades.

Youth apprenticeship offers high school students the opportunity to receive high school credit while also obtaining real-world job experience that can be applied toward advance placement in adult apprenticeship. Youth apprenticeship in construction has only been available in Wisconsin during the last three years.

DWD has offered adult registered apprenticeship for more than 100 years, Roddy said, and ABC of Wisconsin has been training apprentices in 12 different trades for more than 30 years. ABC of Wisconsin currently has nearly 1,500 people in the adult registered apprenticeship program.

“When we got into this idea of doing YA (youth apprenticeship) three years ago, it was a brand-new idea; nobody was sure if it was going to work,” said Jim Bunkelman, president and CEO of Royal Construction. “We decided to take it on and it definitely has worked. It’s a great example of some legislation that is working in favor of helping our skills gap.

“We are short of workers, not just here at Royal, but across the industry, across every trade,” Bunkelman added. “And it’s only going to continue to get worse unless we find a way to get high school students interested and get young guys like Trey to be interested in doing apprenticeships.”

The event was also attended by state Sen. Leah Vukmir, state Rep. Kathy Bernier and state Rep. Shannon Zimmerman.

“This is an exciting moment, especially because this is something we have worked on as legislators, along with the governor, in the course of the last eight years,” Vukmir said. “I think it’s important … to try to change the thinking of parents and realize how important this field is for creating good jobs. We’re working very hard to do the same at high schools.”

For more information about ABC of Wisconsin’s apprenticeship programs, visit www.buildyourcareerwi.org.