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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Workers to fill jobs that don’t require a college education are in high demand.

The $5 billion cracker plant. The $2 billion airport remodel. Not to mention three new UPMC and four new Allegheny Health Network hospitals.

“It is a tremendous building boom. None like I’ve seen in my career,” Gregory Bernarding, of the Iron Workers Union No. 3, said.

construction site KDKA Investigates: Construction Over College Is A Smart Choice For Many

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

A building boom that will bring tens of thousands of construction jobs to our region. The problem is there aren’t enough workers to fill them.

“We need people. We’ve got a wave of work that we’re fortunate [to have] in this area, especially for our economy. We need the young workers,” Jim Kephart, of Massaro Construction, said.

And we’re not alone.

Seventy percent of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers, and there will be 68 percent more infrastructure-related jobs in the next five years than there are people training to fill them.

Jobs for masons, electricians, boilermakers and iron workers. At apprenticeship programs, trade unions are trying to convince young people this can be better than college.

“College isn’t for everyone. If you want to go to college, you’re going to accrue a lot of debt. You’re not sure if you’re gonna get a position after you graduate,” Bernarding said.

APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS: CCAC | Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 | Boilermakers Local Lodge 154 | International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 5

Like some of his fellow apprentices, Chris Robertson considered college, but decided an apprenticeship program was the better option for him, learning both at a training center in the Strip and by going out on construction sites.

He’s getting paid $40,000 a year while some of his buddies in college are racking up debt.

“I decided to get educated and go to work at the same time. Get paid for it, learn something and know that I can go anywhere, work for anybody and be able to get the job done,” Robertson said.

After three years training, graduates become journeymen iron workers who can eventually make $80,000 or more with pensions, paid vacations and health benefits.

“I actually went to college for a year, and then I finally decided I needed to settle down and find a career that I was gonna do for the rest of my life,” trainee Marcus Smerker said.

But make no mistake — it’s tough work, working high up in buildings in the dead of winter and the dog days of summer, but construction companies like Massaro say it’s job security in a fast-changing world. A way not only to make money, but to make your mark.

“Buildings last generations, and the one thing that always sticks in my mind is when you drive through around Pittsburgh and you can look up with pride and say, ‘I built that,'” Kephart said.