Apprenticeship: ‘It means having a future’

Ironworkers 86 apprentice’s success story catches Gov. Inslee’s attention


The Stand

SEATTLE (Jan. 21, 2020) — Sometimes, all it takes to start someone on the path to a good-paying family-supporting career is a few words of encouragement.

Just ask Robert Arce. When he and his fiancée moved to Washington from California, he was struggling to get by — bouncing from low-wage job to low-wage job. At one point, Arce was homeless and slept in his car for about six months.

But then he met Lee Newgent, the longtime Ironworkers Local 86 member/leader and former Executive Secretary of the Washington State Building Trades. Newgent took Arce aside at the Pre-Apprenticeship and Construction Education (PACE) program — where young people learn what it takes to start a career in the building trades — and encouraged him to become an Ironworker.

“I told him Ironworkers are about your future not your past,” Newgent said. “We respect the people that can do the work. Ironworkers are not just a trade, it is a lifestyle.”

That message resonated with Arce.

“Lee Newgent had a huge impact on my decision,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I had the confidence to be an Ironworker and Lee gave me the confidence. He made me believe it was possible. That planted the seed there.”

Now, he is in his second year of a 4-year program with the Pacific Northwest Ironworkers Apprenticeship JATC 86 and says he has received more inspiration from his lead instructor, John Collins.

Arce is already earning good wages while he learns a trade that will allow him to support his family. Apprentice Ironworkers start at $25.77/hour and when they reach journey-level, they make more than $40/hour.

Arce’s success story caught the attention of Governor Jay Inslee.

When the governor delivered his 2020 State of the State address last week, he touted Career Connect Washington, a “life-changing” statewide program that combines classroom learning with practical career experiences for youth and young adults. One of the multiple paths to family wage job opportunities that Career Connect promotes is to registered labor-management apprenticeship programs.

“Ironworkers Local 86 is one of the many apprenticeship programs that expanded and has attracted more students, and more diverse students, through our Career Connect program,” Inslee said. “One of these students is Robert Arce who moved to Washington to make a better life for himself and his fiance. He was homeless for a time and he’d never used a drill or a hammer. At Local 86, Robert received boots, tools, and hands-on knowledge and experience that set him up for success.”


Arce says the Pacific Northwest Ironworkers Apprenticeship has not only helped him launch a promising new career, it has helped him grow as a person.

“I spent a lot of my life in a comfort zone and not testing my limits,” he said. “This apprenticeship drew me out of my comfort zone to get me to test my limits.”

Arce’s advice for other young people struggling in this economy: consider apprenticeship.

“Getting paid while you learn means everything,” he said. “Being with people who groom you and help you along in your journey has been a great experience. It means having a future.”

Interested? Get more information at the Washington Building Trades website about registered apprenticeships in the building trades or the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website for information on other apprenticeship opportunities.

Exit mobile version