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Carpenters Summer Apprenticeships Launched

This summer Cal Poly’s Construction Management (CM) Department launched the Northern California Carpenters Summer Apprentice Pilot Program, an innovative program made possible with the dedicated support and guidance of the Carpenters 46 Northern California Counties, the Construction Employers Association (CEA), and 10 industry partners. 
 
 
The seeds of the program were planted during discussions at several Construction Management Industry Advisory Committee meetings.

“The board was trying to determine how we could help students gain some practical experience in the industry before they graduated,” said Patrick Callahan (B.S., CM, 1975). “I relayed my valuable experience of having been a summer apprentice while a freshman at Cal Poly in 1971.” 
Contractors have a reputation for knowing how to get things done, and that was certainly the case in getting the apprentice program up and running.

In March, CM Department Head Al Hauck met with Callahan, senior vice president at Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co.; Michael Walton, an officer with the Construction Employers Association; Bill Feyling, executive director of Carpenters 46; and Bruce Daesking, chief estimator at McGuire and Hester, to decide on the basic parameters of the program. The meeting was so successful that the pilot was slated to launch in summer, provided they could attract enough students.

In preparation, the CM Department collected resumes of interested students and worked with industry partners to match up students with Bay Area companies. 

“The companies had to agree to one key stipulation,” Hauck said. “They pledged to hire these students in addition to — not instead of — the number of union workers they would normally bring on the project.” 

Ten companies readily agreed, knowing they and the students would reap long-term benefits from such a program. “We at Hathaway Dinwiddie were motivated to participate to develop better-rounded CM students and to help them appreciate what craftsmen really do,” Callahan said. “This process will allow the students to see opportunities in the company and guide decisions as they plan their future careers.” 

Benefits extend to the carpenters union as well. “This is an important first step in bringing the college and field track together to build a special kind of project leadership that can meet the increasing demands of our industry,” Feyling said. 

Participating students committed to an intensive weeklong training program before starting at their jobsite and 12 weeks of work without time off during summer break. “They became full dues-paying union members subject to all related policies and procedures,” Hauck said. “They were expected to perform apprentice-level work just like their other union counterparts in the field.” 

Adam Bloomer and Arya Ghourchian were among the group of 12 students who rose to the challenge. Both students were interested in participating because of the uniqueness of the opportunity. 

“I wanted to do something different from the typical internship,” Bloomer said. “Plus, my brother is a union plumber, my dad is a contractor, and they told me not to pass this up.” 

Ghourchian knew he wanted a hands-on internship, but he was also interested in learning more about the role of a superintendent. “With this program, I got both,” he said. “I learned a trade and gained a better understanding of how things work in the field.” 

The pilot program also provided students the opportunity to learn about the wider network of carpenters unions during a two-day field trip to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas, where they learned about ongoing member education, including an emphasis on skills, attitude and productivity. 

While many of the benefits are broad in nature, the students learned concrete new skills. “I saw the huge amount of coordination it takes for all the unions to work together on a jobsite with a tight schedule,” Ghourchian said. “Problems, such as a lack of materials and human error do come up, but if you are patient and ready to do good, safe work, the job will get done.” 

The CM Department values the true hands-on learning environment that the Carpenters Summer Apprentice Pilot Program provided. 

“It’s important that students who end up managing projects understand how they are actually built,” Hauck said. “Buildings don’t get physically built on the computer screen. It takes union workers in the field getting their hands dirty in sometimes challenging environmental conditions to make it happen.” 

The success of the pilot program is paving the way for expansion in the coming years. Plans are underway to increase the number of students participating and expand to other areas in California. There is even potential for other universities to use this as a model to start their own programs. 

Bloomer’s enthusiasm about the program was unbridled. “I want to thank everyone who put this program together. I definitely hope to participate again next summer,” he said. “I would encourage all students to take advantage of this opportunity if they like to work hard and want to learn a trade.” 
 

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