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'This really changed my life,' Some choose trade school over college and it's paying off

Workers leave sheet metal training program in Boston with no debt
Workers leave sheet metal training program in Boston with no debt 02:19

DORCHESTER - Mark Zalis loves working with his hands and being on his feet. "I wasn't the best student," Zalis said. The 27-year-old is a 5th year apprentice at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 Training Center in Dorchester. 

Growing up he knew college was not for him, so rather than taking on college debt, he decided to cut and shape his own future. "Here, I fell accidentally into a laboring position for a sheet metal shop. They helped me get in. I didn't know much about it. I learned more and more, and I thought this is what I want to do," Zalis said. 

Russell Bartash says these days, more young people are entering the trades because college is too expensive. "We are finding people now want to come to this career because they are not coming out with a college debt that a lot of their friends are coming out with," Bartash said. 

Sheet metal workers union
Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 Training Center in Dorchester CBS Boston

The sheet metal workers take part in a five-year training program to learn the craft. Everything from fabricating sheet metal for HVAC systems to steel crowning on commercial buildings. Here they come to school for four weeks a year. Then they are out in the field with contractors getting real life experiences. 

"The whole time you go you get paid and leave with no debt. After five years you are set up," Zalis said. 

And set to make more than $100,000 a year with benefits and a pension. 

Keyona Tavares of Dorchester is proud of her decision to join Sheet Metal Workers Local 17. Prior to this she was valet and worked security. Now she's a third-year apprentice and a trailblazer for her family. "A lot of my family members didn't go to college. They you know, just got jobs. I make more than some of my aunt and uncles honestly, as an apprentice," Tavares said. 

Sheet metal workers training center
Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 Training Center in Dorchester CBS Boston

Currently there are about 1700 active Sheet Metal Workers in Local 17 and there's no shortage of work. "It's a good challenge and makes you want to do better and get better," Zalis said. 

On top of the free education these apprentices are getting, Sheet Metal Workers local 17 is also awarding $151,000 this year to 29 students whose family members are part of the union. 

For Keyona and Mark they love the work and financial security its providing. "This really changed my life in general. I was struggling a lot growing up. It's the best career I could've done," Zalis said. 

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