Iron Workers

BNY Mellon’s new logo and name was installed by members of Iron Workers Local Union No. 3 in 2010.

Coming off a successful pilot program at Upper St. Clair Township Library, organizer Sheri Huffman was looking for ways to generate even more interest.

“I had a thought on my way to work one day,” she said. “I really don’t know where it came from, but I thought: Unions. They offer free training.”

Penn Commercial CDL

Celeste Van Kirk/for The Almanac

Benjamin Crawford, left, a commercial driver’s license instructor at Penn Commercial in Washington, checks a truck with student Chris Schultz.

And so the first two sessions of the 2019-20 College Alternatives program will feature representatives from three trade unions, complementing educational entities in a series that runs from September through May.

Labor organizations such as Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 9, Iron Workers Local 3 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5 generally offer apprenticeships to individuals 18 and older who meet certain criteria.

“One of the coolest things about becoming an electrician is that it’s standard practice to receive paid on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship. And as apprentice electricians gain more skills and experience over the four to six years it takes to complete an apprenticeship program, their earnings also increase accordingly,” according to the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees of the IBEW-National Electrical Contractors Association.

And in a tight job market, there is plenty of demand for people in trades.

“Pittsburgh is just building and building and building, and they need these people to do the work,” Huffman said.

Penn Commercial GED

Celeste Van Kirk/for The Almanac

Instructor Jill Casey, right, works with Ashley Washabaugh of Washington as she studies for her GED at Penn Commercial in Washington.

In addition to the unions, new on the College Alternatives schedule for the coming academic year is Penn Commercial, a business and technical school in Washington offering areas to student including trades, cosmetology and commercial driver’s license.

Returning are Bidwell Training Center, Rosedale Technical College, Community College of Allegheny County and Douglas Education Center, all of which contributed to a successful initial run of the program in the spring.

Huffman said one family – parents, son and daughter – attended each of the sessions.

“I just want them to know anything and everything that’s out there, so that when they want to move on after they graduate, they would have all of these options,” Huffman said the mother told her. “A lot of people don’t know of the options available.”

“That’s exactly why I wanted to do this,” Huffman said.

One of the more popular spring sessions featured Douglas Education Center, the Monessen career school that is home to Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program. Another was the CCAC session.

“We had a lot of parents come to that one,” Huffman said. “If they have four of five kids and they all want to go to college, they have to start with something that costs a little less and move on.”

College Alternatives is free and open to everyone, including adults who may be looking to further their education or seek new career possibilities. Sessions are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the library:

  • Sept. 16 – Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 9, for information on careers in “trowel trades” such as masonry, tile setting, plastering and working with terrazzo;
  • Oct. 28 – Iron Workers Local 3 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5;
  • Nov. 18 – Bidwell Training Center, offering programs at no cost to Pennsylvania residents who have a high school diploma or GED, and Rosedale Technical College, preparing students for employment in the automotive, diesel, electrical and HVAC fields;
  • March 9 – Community College of Allegheny County South Campus’ director of admissions;
  • April 20 – Douglas Education Center, which offers courses including filmmaking and special effects makeup, beauty and wellness, skilled trades and allied health;
  • May 18 – New Horizons Computer Learning Center and Penn Commercial Business-Technical School.

Huffman, who works as a library specialist, said that parents of younger children are taking an interest in the College Alternatives program.

Huffman said one woman told her in the spring the program is a “fabulous idea.”

“I have five kids and I’m a stay-at-home mom, so we don’t have a ton of money,” Huffman said the woman told her. “To offer them other ideas is great.”

To register, visit, call 412-835-5540 or do so at the library.

Douglas makeup

The Almanac

Gabrielle Pelletier applies makeup to Kate Yerke during a class at Tom Savini’s Special Effects Make-Up Program at Douglas Education Center in Monessen.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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