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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City High School seniors Max Hughes, left, and Isaac Stegeman work on a plug welding project Friday at the Nichols Career Center. Photo by Mark Wilson / News Tribune.

Nichols Career Center has formalized an agreement with the Sheet Metal Workers' Local 36 union that will give students who complete one of several two-year Nichols programs a chance to be halfway to their first pay raise.

Jefferson City Public Schools recently announced Nichols had formalized an articulation agreement with Local 36 that will allow students who complete the career center's building trades, welding, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning program to earn up to 500 hours of on-the-job training credit toward Local 36's Apprenticeship Training Program.

NCC Director Sharon Longan said the agreement is the first of its kind for the career center.

Russ Unger, apprentice coordinator for Local 36, said the union's apprenticeship program lasts five years and requires 720 hours of classroom training and 10,000 hours of on-the-job training, with a 5 percent pay increase every 1,000 on-the-job training hours.

That means students who come in with 500 hours of on-the-job training credit will be halfway to making a $15.10 hourly wage of taxable income, compared to the starting taxable wage of $13.24 an hour.

Taking into account benefits, Unger said, the starting wage is $26.87 an hour, and the wage with benefits after the first raise is $29.21 an hour.

Students are eligible to earn up to 500 hours "if a student takes certain classes and gets a certain grade point average," Unger said.

Local 36 also has articulation agreements with career centers in Columbia and Mexico, making NCC's the third such agreement, he added.

Unger said he's gone to NCC for years to speak to HVAC and welding classes about Local 36's apprenticeship program, but the new agreement came about within the past few months following conversations with Nichols staff at a career fair.

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"We've had a relationship with NCC for a long time, and it's nice to be able to reward students who do a good job in their training and give them a career they'll have for the rest of their lives," Unger said in a JCPS news release.

After five years, he said, apprentices have the opportunity to become journeymen, who make a $32.07 taxable hourly wage. Journeymen can stay local within the Central Missouri region — which covers counties from the Iowa border down through the cities of Kirksville, Moberly and Mexico into Boone and Cole counties and down to near the Lake of the Ozarks — or they can transfer to another area in the United States or Canada.

Apprentices mainly stay local during their training, he said.

"This path is perfect for young people who are interested in a career field that is both challenging and provides a good paycheck. We are very proud to continue a great tradition of working with our local unions," NCC HVAC instructor Craig Strope said in the JCPS news release.