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Students hear from a union rep about the opportunities for apprentices and beyond.
National Apprenticeship Week kicked off at Mastbaum High School with a presentation of a new pre-apprenticeship program for students in welding, carpentry, plumbing and electric. Photo: Kianni Figuereo/AL DÍA News.

Philadelphia Academies unveils new pre-apprenticeship in building trades program for Mastbaum students

The announcement was followed by a Labor Fair for the 10-12th graders in attendance to meet city labor leaders and apprentices.

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The first thing Layla Beebe tells those she meets when discussing her time at the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters (EAS), is that she’s been a carpenter for 17 years now.

“That’s major for me,” Beebe told AL DÍA in the gymnasium of Mastbaum High School on Tuesday morning, Nov. 15.

Beebe was there repping EAS as Philadelphia Academies, Inc., the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, and the Working Families Partnership announced the launch of their new PACT program for 10th through 12th graders at Mastbaum.

Standing for the Pre-apprenticeship in Construction Trades program, PACT is a new collaborative effort to allow students earlier in their high school careers “to see what’s out there and… understand the opportunities that they have,” said Cheryl Lafferty, the senior program director at Philadelphia Academies, Inc. The four construction trades in focus for the program are welding, electric, plumbing, and carpentry.

It will interact with students at all grade levels, but at differing degrees depending on the year. Ninth graders get a base knowledge of the program and the opportunities that are out there in the four selected construction trades. In 10th and 11th grade, interested students will do much more work to select which of the four trades they want to pursue.

By 12th grade, Lafferty said the hope is to offer pre-apprenticeships to four or five seniors in each of the four trades so they can get paid and valuable on-the-job experience before sending them on to full-blown apprenticeship programs or further education opportunities.

Students learn about opportunities from a union rep.
10th through 12th grade students explored a labor fair after the announcement of the new pre-apprenticeship program. Photo: Kianni Figuereo/AL DÍA News.

While expansion is a hope for the future, just Mastbaum students will have access in the coming year to PACT.

“It’s a way for them to really visualize what their future can look like outside of the traditional next steps,” Lafferty said.

It was a sentiment also echoed by Danny Bowden, incoming president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, who told AL DÍA that the importance of partnering with schools like Mastbaum and creating and pushing programs like PACT is to show students as early as possible what’s out there career-wise beyond high school.

“College is wonderful, but it isn’t for everybody,” Bowden said. “There are real options, real career options that’ll benefit you and your family, but you gotta know about them.”

That was the issue for Beebe 17 years ago when she first tried to enter the trades. Growing up in a family of nurses and teachers in West Philadelphia, she had no connection to any of the building trades despite knowing she wanted to be a carpenter from early adolescence.

Eventually, Beebe found the right people and was able to pursue her carpentry dreams, but that’s not always the case, especially for inner-city kids.

“For a lot of kids and a lot of young adults, if you don’t have someone that you know that’s already in the union, you don’t know anything about the union,” she said. 

Beyond that, of those that do go into the trades and find success, they often don’t stick around to influence others to follow in their footsteps from their neighborhoods.

“It’s almost like ‘moving on up,’” said Beebe. “They take it, and they take it with them.”

For Joel, a 17-year-old senior at Mastbaum who studies carpentry, it was his dad that first got him interested in the craft.

“The way he would work and the way he would tell me how good it is. It inspired me to want to do it,” he said.

When it comes to potentially going for the pre-apprenticeship program in carpentry, Joel said it sounded “tough,” but that wouldn’t deter him from trying to get in.

“I like the fact that it helps you get in early,” he said.

Students learn about opportunities from a union rep.
The PACT program is only at Mastbaum for the coming year, but leaders hope to expand it in the near future. Photo: Kianni Figuereo/AL DÍA News.

Family is also what got seniors Carol and Samuel Martinez into the trades and to Mastbaum for high school. Ramirez, a welding student, is the second generation  in his family to attend Mastbaum. His mom went there, and so did his sister, who graduated a year ago and is currently pursuing a psychology degree at West Chester University.

Recently, Ramirez competed in welding a competition at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and is currently hoping to score a job there or with another company for after his senior year.

He chose welding because he said it seemed the coolest out of all the trades offered at Mastbaum.

“I feel like it’s something I could do after school,” Ramirez told AL DÍA. “Also the money’s good.”

For Carol, it was her cousins that got her into carpentry and also attended Mastbaum. Her goal is to continue learning more about the trade beyond graduation, and then potentially go into cosmetology, another passion.

“I would love to do carpentry forever, but study more,” she said.

Carol also pulled no punches when talking about being one of the only women in carpentry and at the school.

“I feel like girls do it better than the boys,” she said.

Union table decorations
Reps from the carpenters', electricians', Philadelphia Water Department, Philly AFL-CIO, and more were at the labor fair on Tuesday at Mastbaum. Photo: Kianni Figuereo/AL DÍA News

She could also have someone to look up to in Beebe, the 17-year vet in the trade.

“For me to be able to I’ve been here 17 years, for every young woman and young individual that looks like me or even feels like they can connect with me for any reason,” said Beebe, “that kind of tells them: ‘not only can you try it out, but you can start and you can stay.’”

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