Learning a building trade is a demanding experience that can lead to lifelong rewards, according to Tom Cerra.
After all, he pointed out, there aren't many vocations that allow you to say with pride to a young child while strolling past an imposing building, "Your grandfather helped put that up." And he believes the Ohio Valley, with local labor unions at the forefront, is rife with people who have what it takes to excel in such careers.
So, just what does it take to learn a building trade?
"There are tremendous careers in construction, very satisfying and rewarding careers," said Cerra, co-chairman of Project BEST and executive director of the Ohio Valley Construction Employers Council Inc., which counts local contractors in fields from plumbing and sheet metal working to painters and truckers among its members. "Local people do it best. Local people working together make it happen."
The key component in learning a trade, Cerra said, is "a great work ethic and the willingness to learn."
"They just need to be exposed to the right program," he said, noting he believes the training and apprenticeship programs offered through local unions and labor organizations are the best in the country.
"They teach them what they need to know, and they excel in 'safety first'" instruction.
Bryan "Carp" Dierkes, who directs the apprenticeship program for Ironworkers Local 549 in Wheeling, said to be successful in what is often a competitive environment requires constant motivation.
"In our field, jobs are bid out and if you've got four men on a project, you need those four men every day," he said. "You've got to be at work every day and work hard."
With companies from far and wide flooding the area, looking to cash in on the vast natural gas reserves in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, Cerra expects interest in construction trades to grow.
While some of those companies have been criticized for bringing outside labor to complete projects, local ironworkers have found jobs helping to build natural gas processing plants in Marshall County.
And that may only be the beginning if the Ohio Valley prevails in the race to attract a multibillion- dollar ethane "cracker" plant to the region.
"That's the big demand right now, and that may be the big demand in the future, as well," Cerra said of the natural gas industry and its opportunities.