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Building Tomorrow's Workforce: The Power of Apprenticeships

Real Estate Awards

In recent times, education and career training has undergone a significant transformation, welcoming various alternatives to conventional college degrees. As a general contractor, our goal is to collaborate with community partners to introduce the next generation of the workforce to these varied career opportunities.

One such pathway VJS is very active in is youth apprenticeship programs at the high school level. These programs offer students a unique blend of classroom learning and hands-on experience in specific trades or industries, presenting an appealing alternative to conventional college education.

The Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC) recently celebrated its largest apprenticeship signing, recognizing 14 students from the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) who are enrolled in RAMAC’s Youth Apprenticeship program. These students will embark on their apprenticeship journeys with construction partners, contributing to the campus-wide improvements outlined in the 2020 referendum.

The Youth Apprenticeship program, facilitated by RAMAC in collaboration with the RUSD, represents a cornerstone in building the next generation of workforce in the construction industry. We are thrilled to welcome Israel Hernandez, Jonathon Barba-Lopez, our youngest union employee, and Richard Salerno to the VJS team.

“We are proud to provide an invaluable hands-on experience in the trades to these RUSD students. It’s exciting to expose them to things they don’t know,” said Ryan Niegocki, VJS field operations manager. “They’re working in the school buildings they know and care about, in their own community.”

Jonathon Barba-Lopez | RUSD Park High School Graduate

Jonathon, a recent RUSD Park High School graduate, joined the VJS team in the fall of 2023 as a carpenter apprentice. Interested in the trades, Jonathon explored career options through the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (BIG STEP) in Racine. After learning about the Youth Apprentice program at school, Jonathon took the initiative to approach the VJS onsite team at RUSD to develop his interest in carpentry.

Upon starting his apprenticeship, Jonathon was paired with Santos Carillo Arroyo, a Journeyman Carpenter and Brian McGraw, Carpenter Foreman, as his trainers and mentors at Jerstad - Agerholm. Initially, Jonathon learned skills such as setting door frames and caulking. Over eight months, he progressed to more advanced tasks like rough-ins, blocking, and setting finish casework and tops.

Jonathon has worked alongside various trades including drywallers, painters, plumbers, and electricians, gaining valuable insights into construction sequencing and general construction practices. As a bilingual team member, Jonathon also plays a pivotal role in breaking communication barriers among trade partners.

“It’s absolutely great seeing a young guy that is both hard working and willing to learn,” said Santos Carillo Arroyo. “He’s going to be a very good carpenter.”

We had the opportunity to catch up with Jonathon and inquire about his apprenticeship experience.


Question: What do you like the most about your apprenticeship?

Jonathon: I like the individuals I work with while learning advanced carpentry skillsets and solving problems. I enjoy providing my own suggested solutions.

Question: What do you like the least about your apprenticeship?

Jonathon: My least favorite thing is being underestimated because I’m young.

Question: What additional resources or experience would have helped in your trades career exploration?

Jonathon: Many apprentices don’t get the opportunity to see different trades. Fortunately, I did receive exposure to trades via the “BIG STEP” program and was able to determine early that carpentry was the route I wanted to pursue. I would suggest this to anyone younger looking to join the trades.

Question: What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing construction?

Jonathon: Be confident and take initiative. Also, I suggest younger people review and understand the pay and benefits as well as ask questions when they don’t understand. Even if you’re unsure, ask many questions to learn as much as possible.


“VJS has been a great company to work for,” said Jonathon. “I’ve really appreciated the mentorship provided by Brian and Santos.”



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