July 9-22, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 13
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Make the Grade
Ford to spearhead graduate studies
U.Va. building from within

Exceptional Assistants Program

Apprentice Program
On the set of U.Va.’s ER for medical students
Leaders need to recharge, too
U.Va.’s library on display
See the latest in multimedia
Levy legacy: A U.Va. richer in black culture


U.Va. building from within
Facilities Management’s Apprentice Program
Mark Christian
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
Mark Christian, one of the 80 graduates of U.Va.’s 22-year-old Apprentice Program, is the first U.Va. employee to be named Apprentice of the Year by the state Department of Labor and Industry’s Apprentice Council.

By Matt Kelly

Facilities Management wants to expand its talent pool — with apprentices.

“We’re looking to get the next generation on board,” said Chris M. Willis, director of facilities operations for Facilities Management.

With apprentices, Facilities Management can build its workforce from the ground up. More than a quarter of the department’s employees have 20 or more years on the job, and many of these will be retiring in the next several years. About one-third of Facilities Management’s workforce is in the skilled trades. “It’s hard to compete when construction salaries [in the private sector] pay better,” Willis said. “But if we can get you here, there are other benefits for you. We like to grow our own workforce.”

Willis was among several top Facilities Management officials recruiting apprentices at a recent luncheon. While touting the benefits of the Apprentice Program, Willis also warned that it is competitive, with a rigorous screening process.

Competition was intense for the nine openings this year, said Donna M. Barnes, director of human resources and training at Facilities Management. A committee is currently selecting finalists for the three electricians, two carpenters, two steamfitter/plumbers, one mason and one plasterer slots. The four-year program, with 432 hours of classroom time and 2,080 hours a year of practical experience, pairs apprentices with journeymen mentors.

“U.Va.’s program is a model for apprentice training,” said Todd E. Cook, the state Department of Labor and Industry’s regional apprentice representative. “The opportunities they provide, the quality of the training, and the involvement of management is excellent.”

The measure of success is the satisfaction of both the employee and the employer, he said, which is excellent at U.Va. “They’re like a family. They take care of one another.”

“The candidates are outstanding,” Willis said, but “not all of them will graduate.” Barnes said students have dropped out for personal reasons, because the program was too rigorous or because they realized this was not the career for them.

U.Va. has an 80 percent retention rate for apprentices who go through the program. Of those who do leave, some have gone to work for other employers, including other divisions within U.Va., and some apprentices have started their own business and have had apprentices of their own.

“The ones who do graduate will be among the owners of the University,” Willis said.

The Apprentice Program not only provides people with an opportunity to “improve their skills,” Barnes said, but the program also gives master craftsmen an opportunity to pass along their knowledge to younger colleagues. “With so many people with such long years of service [retiring], we are losing valuable knowledge every year.”

The new apprentices will have a role model in Mark Christian, 38, a state-licensed heating, ventilation and air conditioning installation and repair technician at the Central Chiller Plant, who graduated from the Apprentice Program in July 2003. Last December, Christian became the first U.Va. employee to be honored as Apprentice of the Year by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Apprentice Council.

Christian, of Buckingham, was selected, in part, for his work keeping the chiller plant running on back-up generator during Hurricane Isabel in mid-September 2003.

“We had run the plant on generator before, but this was the first time we actually had to use it” during an emergency, said Christian, who was recognized locally at a recent apprentice luncheon. “There are always bugs, like valves that won’t open, that we had to do manually. We’ve become spoiled by technology.”

The Central Chiller Plant supplies cold water to the Medical Center.

“Without chilled water, temperatures of critical equipment and in-patient care areas rapidly rise, and in a matter of hours, the hospital can become unbearably warm,” said Robert P. Dillman, chief facilities officer, during an April 29 ceremony celebrating the apprentice program. “Mark was one of those who worked through the hurricane – keeping the hospital in chilled water throughout the 33-hour event.”

Christian is among the 80 people who have graduated from U.Va.’s Apprentice Program since it was established 22 years ago. He entered the program while working on waste water and heat plants for the Virginia Department of Corrections, but he came to U.Va. four years ago. He enjoys the work because it offers a challenge and something different everyday.

“I like the U.Va. environment,” he said. “It’s a good, positive place to work, I get to spend more time with my kids, and I am in a field that is growing.”

For more information about the apprentice program, visit its Web site at http://fmweb.virginia.edu/FMHome/departments/human/Apprenticeship


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