A two-year-old pre-apprenticeship program offered through Spokane Public Schools is helping students enter construction-related tradesand earn living wagesright out of high school.
Apprentices are needed to fill an expected shortage of construction workers as a growing number of journeyman workers approach retirement age, industry observers say.
Since the program was launched in 2005, the school district has placed 12 pre-apprenticeship students directly into formal apprenticeship programs and on career tracks, says Lisa White, the districts director of career and technical education.
All have stayed in their apprenticeships and are on their way to becoming journeyman workers, she says.
Journeyman level is a measure of education and competency in a trade, says Kevin Managhan, training director with Local 73 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union.
In terms of education, its our degree, Managhan says. Knowledge transfer is how the system has worked for hundreds of years.
The Inland Northwest Apprenticeship Coordinators Council, an association of training directors who represent 17 construction trades, signed a voluntary agreement in 2005 to place one Spokane Public Schools student directly into an apprenticeship for every $5 million that the district spends on new construction per year.
The goal is to use apprentices (from the program) for 15 percent of the labor hours spent on our own construction projects, White says.
The district has two major construction projects under way. The $65 million remodel of Rogers High School began in the summer of 2006 and is scheduled to be complete in December 2008. The $74 million Shadle Park High School renovation began in the spring of 2007 and is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2009.
White says theres enough construction under way for 10 to 15 high school students to participate in the direct-entry program this year.
We still have a few more slots to fill, she says.
One beneficiary of the Spokane Public Schools direct-entry program is D.J. May, a 2006 graduate of North Central High School. Just 10 days after graduating, May was accepted into a formal electricians apprenticeship through Local 73 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and since then has been earning up to $1,100 a week, White says.
At barely 20 years of age and in his second year of a five-year apprenticeship, hes installing electrical outlets and wiring for emergency lighting at the new 30,000-square-foot expansion of the F5 Networks Inc. building in Liberty Lake for Elite Electric of Washington State.
Until he heard about the pre-apprenticeship program, May says he was planning to enroll at Washington State University after high school, even though he wasnt sure he was college material.
As part of the high school program, he job-shadowed workers in a few construction trades, including masonry and electrical.
Thats when I decided for sure to get into the electrician apprentice program, he says.
Now, instead of worrying about college courses and tuition, hes earning good wages, receiving medical and dental benefits, and participating in a pension program, he says.
May says his first apprentice job was wiring street lights with a road crew for Colvico Inc., of Spokane. Since becoming an apprentice electrician, he says hes worked on a variety of projects, including the Cabelas Inc. building in Post Falls, a french fry factory in Othello, Wash., and The Terraces on Lake Coeur dAlene condominiums in Coeur dAlene. As part of the apprenticeship, he has to take a week of classes every six weeks.
The school districts White says she expects the need for apprentices in good-paying construction fields to grow in coming years.
If we dont perpetuate jobs with young workers, were going to have a shortage of workers in one of our most economically important industries, she says.
Over the next decade, nearly a third of the construction trades workers in Spokane County will be eligible to retire, says Jeff Zahir, a labor market economist with the Washington state Employment Security Department.
He says the construction industry, which employed 12,800 workers in Spokane County as of March 31, is an important component of the economy because it pays relatively well. Construction workers in the county earn a median annual income of $34,000.
Apprentices earn between $9 and $20 an hour, plus benefits, depending on the trade, says Local 73s Managhan. Once they reach journeyman status, they can make $20 and more per hour, he adds. Managhan says that most general contractors and project managers he knows began their construction careers as apprentices.
Getting startedWhite says high school juniors and seniors who want to enter the Spokane Public Schools pre-apprenticeship and direct-entry program should demonstrate interest beyond the classroom setting.
In-class and out-of-class experience and learning also help them prepare, she says.
The school districts direct-entry program includes course work in woodworking, metalworking, materials processing, drafting, welding, and construction technology.
To succeed in the program, students need a minimum of six hours of job shadowing, experiences with at least five trades, and a minimum of 80 hours of on-the-job experience. They also attend workshops on industrial safety, career planning, and personal-finance management, White says.
Of the 12 Spokane Public Schools students admitted directly into apprenticeships through the program, five are apprentice electricians, says Managhan.
The direct-entry program is a good way for high school students to get a leg up on their career paths, he says.
Most beginning apprentices have been out of high school for several years, he says. Of the 137 apprentice electricians hes working with, the average age is 26 to 30 years old.
They usually come see us after they have been in the work force trying to find out what they want to do, he says.
Managhan says the direct-entry apprenticeship program for school district projects encourages contractors to take an active role not only in building educational environments, but using construction for education.
It also encourages contractors to make efforts to employ apprentices, he adds.
The pre-apprenticeship program that started with Spokane Public Schools has spread to other school districts in the Spokane area, Managhan says.
Not all districts have construction going on, but the pre-apprenticeship programs entice some students to look into other career opportunities out there, he says. College is not the only route known to build successful careers.
West Valley, Central Valley, and East Valley school districts have received state funding to start their own pre-apprenticeship programs, although they dont have a direct-entry component, because they dont have major construction projects under way, White says.
Contact Mike McLean at (509) 344-1266 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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