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BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Despite the high unemployment rate during the COVID pandemic, hundreds of jobs are available in the Metro East and southern Illinois as construction unions are stepping up their recruiting efforts.

The unemployment rate in Illinois is 11 percent but the Southern Illinois Builders Association says there is a shortage of carpenters, electricians, and plumbers.

Students at the Southern Illinois Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship in Belleville are employed with contractors and go to school at the same time learning the carpenter trade. The apprenticeship and the builders association have been forced to cancel several career fairs at high schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, they are making a series of videos to send to schools to explain the opportunities for highs school students who may not be thinking of a career in construction.

“I believe why there’s so many jobs available right now (is) because we do have a lot of the skilled tradesmen that are retiring and we’re not having a lot of the younger generation be introduced to the construction industry,” said Donna Richter, Southern Illinois Builders Association.

Beginning union carpenters can earn $15 to $19 an hour and advance through the apprenticeship program, making $30 to $40 per hour.

“Benefits for a carpenter include full health care, vision, and dental, a defined benefit pension, an annuity, plus all of your training throughout not only your apprenticeship but your whole entire career is funded for you, so you don’t have any college tuition debt,” said Alex Gromada, coordinator with the Southern Illinois Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship.

Students can also earn 44 college credit hours while attending the apprenticeship should they want to go on to a college education.