After a nine-year hiatus, the local Carpenters Training Center has reopened with over 100 participants getting hands-on training to enter the booming construction industry.

Operated by the Southwest Local Carpenters Union, the academy closed during the downturn and apprentices had to attend classes in Phoenix.

“After the recession in 2009, we couldn’t keep the training center open, and the community lost us as a valuable resource,” said Fabian Sandez, president of Local 1912. “Today, we’re here celebrating because we’re proud to be back.”

Participants are sponsored by member companies to attend the four-year academy, and the majority of schoolwork is in the field.

Class time is for regulation and certification instruction, Sandez said.

Graduates leave the program debt-free and almost always with a job waiting.

The center has seen a mix of students enroll.

“We have targeted training programs for all kinds of people, ranging from young adults who don’t necessarily want to go to college, to veterans, to people who have been incarcerated and are ready to turn their lives around,” Sandez said. “This training center is a place of opportunity.”

Ian Merkle, 31, is an apprentice working on the interior systems of a project at the University of Arizona.

Not having to go to Phoenix for training is a relief.

Getting the younger generation interested in carpentry is something he would like to see.

“I would tell them: ‘Don’t waste any time. This is actually a career,’ ” Merkle said. “It’s not just a job, and it’s fun.”

When Jorge Pereyda, 34, drives his wife around Tucson, he proudly points out projects on which he has worked.

“I tell her, ‘I built that with my two hands,’ ” he said, “and it’s going to be there 100 years.”

Pereyda is working on the highway project on Ina Road.

“I tried college but it wasn’t for me,” he said. “This apprenticeship program is paid for, and you don’t owe anything when you’re done.”

He wants to mentor people who are considering the career.

“It’s incredible to see this building bursting at the seams again,” Pereyda said. “I am glad the doors have been reopened for a new generation of Tucson carpenters, and I am here to welcome them.

“I want this new generation to have what I was given.”

The training center is privately funded by union dues of member companies. Out-of-pocket costs for students is about $200 for books.

Apprentices are hired and sponsored by a company to participate.

Local 1912 represents 435 carpenters and is an affiliate of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, with 50,000 members in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

This is the latest effort to address the shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry.

A report by the Associated General Contractors of America shows the majority of firms are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions such as carpenters, electricians, laborers and painters.

Some local companies have added internal journeyman programs, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe is working to build its own construction company populated by tribal members, and the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association has been working closely with groups that train students in construction careers and lobbying for more funding of trade programs.

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Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.