Ohio Valley Students Get ‘Hands-On’ Approach to Workforce at Career Fair in Wheeling

Scott Mazzulli and Jim Conrad said area high school students considering careers as carpenters, bricklayers, roofers and sheet metal workers should not feel inferior to those seeking to be lawyers, bankers, actors or professors.

“College is just not for everybody,” Conrad, a spokesman for Project BEST, said Thursday during the 2017 Construction Job & Career Fair at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling. “I’ve had five or six apprentices over the last year who tried college. They just didn’t like it, and wanted to do something working with their hands.”

Project BEST, a construction industry labor-management cooperative that includes over 500 contractors and 6,000 employees, co-sponsored the event with the Upper Ohio Valley Building & Construction Trades Council.

“You need skilled people to do this hands-on work,” Mazzulli, who serves as vice president of the building trades council, said. “These are great-paying jobs. Plus, instead of going into debt, you earn while you learn through our apprenticeships.”

Statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and WorkForce West Virginia showed unemployment rates dropping from January to February. Although coal mining, manufacturing and retail sectors continue facing challenges in the Upper Ohio Valley, new structures are still being built.

“It’s always a great time to get into this work. We’re always hiring,” Mazzulli said.

Nearly 500 students representing the following high schools participated in the event: Wheeling Park, John Marshall, Cameron, Harrison Central, Bellaire, Martins Ferry, Bridgeport, Swiss Hills Career Center, Belmont Career Center, Harrison County Joint Vocational Center, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical School. Wheeling Middle School also sent students.

“This is a great event because the students can come here and ask questions about how these careers work,” Conrad said.

Bellaire High School junior Grant Gheen said he is weighing different career options, but he enjoyed working at the bricks and mortar station set up by the International Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

“I am trying to get a feel for everything,” he said, adding he is also considering a career in the military.

Bellaire senior Quayvoughn James also worked with the bricks, while Harrison Central junior Trent McDonald worked with a welding simulator.

Mazzulli said the average union building and construction worker earns between $50,000 and $75,000 per year, plus benefits. While more experienced employees can earn a bit more, the starting salary ranges from about $25,000 per year to $37,500 per year.

“A lot of schools push kids to go to college. There is nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not for everybody,” Mazzulli said. “How many kids go to college, rack up debt, and then can’t even get a job in their field? With these careers, you are actually making money while you are learning — not racking up thousands of dollars in debt.”

Mazzulli said if PTT Global Chemical America proceeds to build an ethane cracker along the Ohio River in Belmont County, it will be a major project for multiple years for those in the construction trades. Belmont County leaders anxiously await PTT’s decision, due by the end of this year. The county’s jobless rate had jumped from 6.2 percent in December to 8.9 percent in January, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, but declined to 8.4 percent in February.

“The whole oil and gas industry has been great for us,” Mazzulli said, noting many union employees have worked to build processing plants and other infrastructure in the recent years.

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