Five high school seniors from Carlton County committed to opportunities to work with trade professionals during a four-year apprenticeship that will begin after graduation this spring.

Three students from Cloquet High School, one from Wrenshall High School and another from Cromwell-Wright High School signed with their partnering contractors Thursday, April 25, at the North Central State Regional Council of Carpenters in Hermantown.

The apprenticeship program will include 7,000 hours of working in the field over the four years, good pay, benefits and five weeks of school each year.

Drake Nordin of Cloquet High School signed with McGough Construction in Duluth. He said the industrial arts classes he took in high school were a good starting point for preparing himself for the apprenticeship.

"I think it's a great opportunity," Nordin said of the apprenticeship program. "It gives an option to students who don't want to go to college or can't."

Matt Campanario, executive director of the Carpenter's Training Institute, said that between the union and the high schools, a lot of work is being done to develop knowledge of career paths that doesn't just include a four-year degree.

"It does not include all the student debt we hear about," Campanario said. "It's an opportunity to come right out of high school making $20 an hour plus $18-an-hour benefits, with regular pay increases working up to that journeyperson level."

Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro attended the event in support of Wrenshall senior Jared Kelly, who signed with Ray Riihiluoma Inc. She said Wrenshall is hoping to do more to incorporate the carpenter union's curriculum into its industrial arts program.

"We're trying to open up some pathways for our students, different pathways - not just going to college or technical schools," Campanario said.

Cloquet High School industrial arts teachers Dusty Rhoades and Bret Gunderson began

incorporating the carpenter union's curriculum into their program this school year after spending some time mulling it over.

"We had the books for about a year and we were looking it over trying to see if we could make it fit," Rhoades said, "It became more of a matter of 'Why aren't we doing this now?'"

Now that they're using the union's books, Gunderson said about 25 percent of their curriculum is new, and student numbers in the program have increased, in part because students understand they're going to get more career training.

"We're hoping these three boys will set the example of what's coming," Rhoades said. "They're dang good kids."

"They're very good kids," Gunderson added. "They're motivated and hardworking."

Harlan Foster, also of Cloquet High School, signed with Northland Constructors in Duluth. He said to him, that's "a great deal."

"I'm ecstatic about joining," Foster said. "I love working outside and with my hands."

Since joining the National Guard at age 17, Foster said he's heard a lot of talk about going to college, but knew that just wasn't for him. He couldn't stand the idea of working behind a desk all day.

Declan Goward of Cloquet High School signed with Ray Riihiluoma Inc. and Drake Warner of Cromwell-Wright signed with Kraus-Anderson Construction in Duluth.