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College Apprentices Paid to Learn In-Demand Trades

San Diego Union Tribune


College Apprentices Paid to Learn In-Demand Trades

State grants used to train for careers ranging from machinery to microbiology

Gary Warth | March 3, 2016, San Diego Union Tribune


SAN DIEGO -- Hundreds of local community college students never have to go to a class on campus, and they’re earning good money as well as degrees while they’re at it.

And it’s about to get easier to get into the program.

The students are apprentices, learning skills that range from sheet metalwork to microbiology while being paid on the job and earning college credit.

Getting into the program can be competitive, and in some cases applicants are required to take a test with a high percentage of failure.

In an effort to increase the workforce with well-paying jobs, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office has provided grants to expand apprenticeship programs aimed at training workers.

The San Diego Community College District recently received $1.1 million in grants, including $600,000 that will create at least 30 more apprentice positions for Miramar College students.

A $500,000 grant will fund programs that will be created at City College in the fall to help students pass application tests and succeed in the program once accepted.

City College will work with San Diego Continuing Education, Palomar College and Southwestern College in creating the program.

Trudy Gerald, dean of the School of Arts, Humanities & Communications at City College, said the money will go toward creating test preparation programs to help more students get into the program and toward integrating into existing curriculum lessons that will help students succeed once they are apprentices.

Several businesses, along with the city of San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric, have apprenticeship agreements with City College, said Rose LaMuraglia, dean of the School of Business, Information Technology and Cosmetology.

Apprentices are in demand, because every business in the state that does work on a public site must use student-apprentices for at least 20 percent of their crews.

About 800 City College students are enrolled in apprenticeship programs, with the bulk taking classes offsite. The size of programs ranges from about 500 students taking classes twice a week at the Associated Builders and Contractors facility in Poway to one apprentice at a small custom tool-cutting shop called Honeywell.

While most companies hold classes off-site, the company Solar Turbines has about 25 apprentices who take machinery and manufacturer classes on campus, LaMuraglia said.

“Solar Turbines asks them to get an associate degree or certificate of achievement, and they pay for it,” she said.

Every business that uses apprenticeships must work with a school, either in the K-12 or college level. Teachers in the program are employees of the schools, whether they work on campus or at another site.

LaMuraglia said City College receives money from the state Division of Apprenticeship Standards to pay the teachers so the cost does not come out of the district’s general fund.

In Poway, Jerry Diaz is one of the many apprentices who was learning new skills one night last week at the Associated Builders and Contractors facility, which teaches classes in sheet metal, electrical, plumbing, pipe-fitting and electronics twice a week. Each class is 2 1/2 hours.

“Anybody can go out and learn a trade, but at ABC we learn the ins and outs of it,” said Diaz, 31, who is in his fourth and final year in the program.

“Rather than somebody who just gets hand-on training, I’ll get a wide range of skills here,” he said.

Dylan Conforth, an adjunct instructor who went through the program at ABC, said even first-year students are employed and paid the prevailing wage, and work crews sometimes designate people with entry level skills by different colored hats.

As they advance, students get pay increases every six months. After completing four years of study and 8,000 hours of work, they take the journeyman’s license exam.

Diaz works for Certified Air Conditioning, and he has been retrofitting the air system at Hubbs Hall, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, from 6 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.

“I’m hoping to get a degree in construction management,” he said about his ultimate goals. “I’m 31. I’m already aching and hurting. I don’t want to be doing this for 30 years. I want to slide into an office position.”

Kevin Strahler, another apprentice at ABC, works for West Coast Air and has been retrofitting a building at San Diego State University.

“I think it’s an amazing program,” said Strahler, 26. “If you go through the program, it’ll set you up for success in the industry and will always set you apart.”

Strahler is scheduled to complete the program in June, and anticipates he could make $75,000 to $110,000 a year once he gets his license.

At Miramar College, the new grant will sponsor at least 30 apprentices at more than 17 companies, which will pay students an entry-level wage of up to about $36 an hour.

Jobs will be in microbiology quality control, chemistry quality control, regulatory compliance, regulatory affairs, clinical research, quality assurance, drug safety and other areas.


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