Apprentices say reward outweighs risk in Alaska’s iron industry

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Apprentices say reward outweighs risk in Alaska’s iron industry

By KTVA Sierra Starks 9:01 AM November 4, 2015

ANCHORAGE – The fruits of the Alaska Ironworkers’ labor can be seen all over Alaska, with one of their most recent projects being the new Glenn Highway bridge over Eagle River.

Anthony Ladd says that’s one of the perks of the industry.

“The reward of the job, there’s nothing like it,” said Ladd, who’s been an ironworker for 13 years. “When you build a monument, especially in a city or state you’ve lived in your whole life, you see it forever.”

Ladd heads the Alaska Ironworkers Local 751 apprenticeship program – 6,000 hours of hands-on industry training.

“We teach them basic safety, rigging, welding, all aspects of the trade to be an ironworker to perform above industry standards,” he said.

When Kenny Jenkins graduated with an associate’s degree in criminal justice, he says no prospect paid well enough for him to take it. So he switched gears and enrolled in the Alaska Ironworkers apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are paid as they learn and also receive benefits. In the first six months of the program, Jenkins was making 55 percent of what a full-time journeyman would be paid. And he was put to work immediately, spending the summer at Fort Greely.

Ladd says he learned the trade because he says he wasn’t ready to decide on a career fresh out of high school. He says many of the apprentices he’s seen come through the program share the same story.

“I know what I want to do now. Whereas if I go to college at 18/19, not so much,” he said. “Come out here and get in the trade, work for a couple years, make $36 an hour for the check and $28 in benefit package, you’re at about $70 an hour.”

“Earn as you Learn” — it’s the motto of apprenticeship programs everywhere. Both are what drew Jenkins in — the pay and the hard work.

In the program, half of Kenny Jenkins’ classroom is outdoors, with one of his tasks being to scale a two-story column, using only his arms and legs.

“Pretty much all the buildings downtown, anything over two stories would have these beams in them,” Jenkins explained. “We have to climb the column to get to the top to connect other beams.”

In a trade where gravity is a potential enemy, CNN Money recently listed ironworking as one of America’s 10 Most Dangerous Jobs.

“It’s a dangerous job, it’s definitely a dangerous job,” Ladd noted. ”Everybody equates us to the ‘lunch on the skyscraper’ photo, the glory behind the job, everybody walking the beams and the death-defying heights. That has a lot to do with it, but we’re trained to do it safe.”

Jenkins is only in his first year of the apprenticeship program, but he says he’s learning the rewards of the trade far outweigh the risks.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Jenkins said. “But it’s worth it.”

He says he hopes to one day reap those rewards — the chance to drive by something he helped build.

Contact Sierra Starks at sstarks@ktva.com and on Facebook and Twitter, @SStarksKTVA

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