Tom Souther of Burlington, Wisconsin, had worked in the print industry for 22 years when he realized he had exhausted all opportunities for advancement. Changing careers meant taking a pay cut, and that put a strain on his family of four. He said, "I was at the top of my game then. When I left, I went to the bottom."
As part of his steamfitting service apprenticeship, Tom takes classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College and works at Electro-Kold, where his operations manager describes him as "thirsty for knowledge."
Tom loves being in the refrigeration trade. "I feel much more satisfied with my work and I'm constantly growing. My children are very proud that I was brave enough to switch careers at this stage in my life."
But on an apprentice's pay, Tom's already tight budget unfortunately lacks the funds to purchase quality tools required for his trade. When he learned of a scholarship opportunity designed for apprentices attending Wisconsin's technical colleges, he knew he had to go for it.
Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates has supported apprentices with financial need since 2013 when the Tools of the Trade $1,000 Apprentice Scholarship program was created. These scholarships are awarded to help apprentices purchase equipment, tools and clothing for their trades.
Tom is one of 200 construction and industrial trades apprentices who earned a $1,000 scholarship in March 2017. To date, Great Lakes has awarded nearly $600,000 to help Wisconsin apprentices struggling financially finish their training and advance to in-demand jobs that pay family-supporting wages.
Since the scholarship program began, 94% of recipients have either completed or continued their programs the following semester. Additionally, a recent Wisconsin Technical College System survey shows that 95% of apprentices who have completed certification are currently employed in their chosen trade.
"This scholarship alleviates a lot of the financial pressure on my family," Tom said. "I'm looking forward to getting some good drills, some gauges and meters too—the things I need to be an independent journeyman."
To learn more about the Tools of the Trade $1,000 Apprentice Scholarship, visit community.mygreatlakes.org.