Sometimes the best qualities of a new home are the ones that you cannot see right away. Plumbing, electrical work, and air ducts might be the last features on your mind when you’re searching for your “dream home,” but they are the first ones you notice if something goes awry. Fortunately, the Builders Association of North Central Florida (BANCF) partners with Santa Fe College to ensure that master craftsmen and women are the ones putting the most important – yet least seen – touches on every home on the Parade.
How do they accomplish this? They apply the centuries-old, time-tested method of producing experts in any field: apprenticeship.
Why Create an Apprenticeship Program?
In 1994, the Greater Gainesville Area Association for Technical Training (GGAATT) joined forces with then-Santa Fe Community College to develop the first successful non-union training effort in the area.
Mike McGraw, president of Vintage Electric Inc. and one of the original contractors to set up the apprenticeship program, explains that it was started for several reasons:
- To bring bright young people to the trades, which is essential if the industry is to keep pace with technology and the demand of today’s construction processes;
- To train industry employees in the fundamentals of commercial electrical work to benefit both their employers and the contractors working on a given project; and
- To improve wages for local electricians.
“From the beginning, Santa Fe College was an invaluable partner: instant classrooms, instructor training and training equipment,” McGraw said.
McGraw attributes the early and quick success of the program to two factors: the area’s need for skilled labor and good contractors willing to invest both in their employees and the future of their businesses.
The program’s first four-year class graduated in 1998. In 2005, BANCF succeeded GGAATT as the program sponsor with the State of Florida. To date, over 150 apprentices have graduated, specializing in the technical fields of carpentry, electrical, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing.
Mastering the Trade
The curriculum is developed and updated by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and all the instructors have completed the Instructor Certification Training Program through NCCER.
“The apprenticeship program provides the formal curriculum to ensure our employees know the proper techniques and methods,” said Matthew Webster, vice president of the Diversified Projects Division at Charles Perry Partners, Inc.
The Craft Manuals, also known as the Contren Learning Services, used in the program were developed to establish consistency and a nationwide standard that is also recognized in 13 foreign countries.
McGraw explains that through the program, apprentices receive on-the-job training (OJT) in excess of 8000 hours in addition to over 850 hours of classroom instruction over a four-year period. This OJT component allows each participating employer to customize the training of its workforce.
“Jobsite experience is invaluable, but you don’t always know the quality of training,” Webster said. “Tradesmen can learn bad techniques or learn ‘how we have always done it.’”
“The apprenticeship program provides the formal curriculum to ensure our employees know the proper techniques and methods.”
Of Vintage Electric Inc.’s 24 field personnel, 16 either are graduates of the program or currently are apprentices.
“An applicant that has completed our program ranks very high when I am evaluating applications for a new hire,” McGraw said.
The program has approximately a 50 percent retention rate for those students who complete the program. McGraw says that being employed in the industry while receiving his or her education is an advantage to apprenticeship, and a factor that aids in retaining loyal employees.
“Ideally, we are sponsoring young people to become our future electricians and company leaders,” McGraw said.
He adds, “This program is a perfect example of what happens when something just makes sense: industry and education working together to build future workers.”
Career in Construction Day
Santa Fe College and the Builders Association of North Central Florida host an annual “Careers in Construction Day,” where about 100 seniors from high schools in Alachua and surrounding counties are exposed to careers in the construction industry from local contractors, instructors and former students.
The School Board of Alachua County works with SFC and BANCF to identify students who are interested in construction and transports them to the college’s main campus, where they learn about the various programs that are available to them following high school graduation. They include the apprenticeship and building construction programs at SFC, as well as programs offered through the University of Florida School of Building Construction.
The 2014 event was held in late February. Speakers addressed the students about their experiences and life paths that led them to their current careers in construction. Vinnie Moreschi spoke as BANCF President and Mark Hurm spoke as Chair of the Master Trades Committee, which is the BANCF committee registered with the state of Florida that manages the apprenticeship program.