Aug. 30-Sept. 12, 2002
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Apprenticeship program turns 20

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Apprenticeship program turns 20
Photo by Betty Wooding/Facilities Management

By Katherine Thompson Jackson

For 20 years, graduates of one U.Va. program have been guaranteed jobs immediately after successful completion of school.

apprenticeship graduates
Photo by Jenny Gerow
Brion Stoner (left) entered the apprenticeship program last month as an electronics technician apprentice; James Spears (center) graduated as an electronics technician in 1997; and Robert Gentry entered the program last year as an electronics technician apprentice. Here, the three are working on fire suppression systems.

Since 1982, thanks to U.Va.’s highly competitive apprenticeship program at Facilities Management, unskilled laborers have been turned into certified journeymen with permanent, full-time jobs. Over the course of four years, they are trained in their prospective fields in academic and Health System settings alongside professional tradesmen.

“Technology and equipment require people who are appropriately trained, and this program has done that,” said James Jefferson, a 1997 graduate who now is a systems control electronics technician. “The apprenticeship program has taught me how to be a respectable craftsman.”

Tom Wright, a 2002 graduate who completed the masonry/plastering program, joined the ranks of nearly 100 unskilled laborers in the four-year program and received on-the-job training 40 hours per week while attending weekly, four-hour-long classes. Initially, classes were held only at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center. Some apprentices now attend classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Clarence Wells
Photo by Betty Wooding/Facilities Management
Clarence Wells entered U.Va.'s Apprenticeship Program in 1982, the first year it was available. He graduated in 1986 as an HVAC journeyman and was promoted to air conditioning leadman in 1991. This month, he was named superintendent of the SW McCormick Zone where he is responsible for a team of tradesmen and housekeepers serving the McCormick Road area.

The apprenticeship program is a joint effort of U.Va.’s Facilities Management Department and the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. It was the first such program supported by a state agency and has served as a model for other state agencies and institutions. Now, about 10,000 Virginians participate in certified apprenticeship programs around the state.

Initially, 22 employees – housekeepers, laborers and food service workers – were chosen from 40 applicants. They signed on with the goal of career advancement. The University was eager to train these employees to replenish its pool of skilled workers and to provide advancement for employees.

Every year except 1990-91, the program has enabled U.Va. to replenish that pool. The stability of the Facilities Management workforce precluded the need for the program during that fiscal year.

“It is difficult to recruit persons already well into their job,” said Chris Willis, Facilities Management’s director of operations. “Experienced skilled workers are difficult to find. The apprentices are anxious to work in their trades and must be able to keep up with their regular academic load.”

The program, which recruits students both internally and outside the University, recently accepted four new apprentices — two for electronics and two for heating, ventilating and air conditioning. These positions had already been filled before the recent budget cuts, which will severely impact hiring practices, Willis said. After successfully completing the program, apprentices are promoted to the level of journeymen craftsmen.

Clarence Wells, class of 1986, was recently promoted to a superintendent position in Facilities Management. He said his experience was rewarding and prepared him socially to work with many unfamiliar people throughout the University. “Learning in the classroom is different from hands-on in the field.”


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