CLEVELAND — It’s a great time to have an interest in construction trades. Here in greater Cleveland, there are plenty of opportunities. News 5 Anchor Katie Ussin told you how Canton City Schools is exposing female students to male-dominated careers like construction. Now, she’s meeting the women in Greater Cleveland who are already hard at work.

Nineteen-year-old Lauren Johnson is a second-year apprentice through Pipefitters Local 120. She loves it.

“I’m learning things left and right,” she said.

While it’s not easy work, it is worth it.

“At one job we’re welding on a roof so that’s pretty darn cold all the time,” Johnson said. “And then at my other job, I’m in a boiler room piping boilers so, that’s pretty warm!”

Tuition for this 5-year apprenticeship is free, paid through the union’s training fund. Johnson will graduate as a Journey Level Pipefitter at 23, with no student loan debt. And she gets to earn while she learns. Right now, she makes $23 per hour. And when she graduates?

“Right now, they’re at about $45…But I’m sure it’ll increase as time goes on,” she told Katie. “Good pay, good benefits, love it!”

It’s a message Doreen Cannon hopes more women will hear.

“Yes, you can do this,” she said. “There are women doing this for their whole career.” Cannon is a Journey Level Plumber who also works to recruit women into the skilled trades. When she started nearly 30 years ago, the percentage of women working with tools in a trade was less than 2% nationally. Now, it’s about 4%.

“I think the most important thing is getting the word out there,” Cannon said. She was the first female president of the Plumbers Union Local 55 Cleveland. But it wasn’t her first job; she stayed home a while after her son was born. After reentering the workforce, she pivoted from retail to plumbing.

“I think a lot of people think this isn’t something for them as they get older, but I always say it’s a physically demanding job, but if you have the passion and you’re physically able to do this job then really nothing should hold you back.”

Katie also spoke with Dave Wondolowski, the Executive Secretary and Business Manager of the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council. He said there are a lot of great opportunities in our region right now, with massive amounts of projects looming.

“There’s most definitely great opportunities here,” he said. “If everything goes well, it’ll be close to $12 billion in work.”

From the airport to the riverfront, the new county jail, and ongoing projects at Progressive Field, Cleveland Clinic, Sherwin Williams, the list goes on and on. Wondolowski said we’re looking at a busy decade for the construction trades here at home, and we need to build up the talent pipeline.

“It’s really more work that we’ve had in the last 50 years all at once here. So, really exciting time for us, but really a challenging time also.” Recognizing that need, Wondolowski founded the Cleveland Tradeswomen Committee, of which Cannon is chair.

“Rosie the Riveter really is kind of our icon,” she said. The committee offers a community of support and mentorship for women working in these historically male-dominated industries — strengthening a new generation of tradeswomen and helping apprentices like Johnson see themselves in this line of work.

“You get to drive past a job, and you get to be like, ‘Oh, I did that!” she said. “That’s really so much fun.

Free apprenticeship programs like the one Johnson is in are provided across the building trades. Cleveland Builds is a pre-apprenticeship pathway program that can help you figure out which might be right for you.