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During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Laborer’s apprenticeship programs have continued partially in-person and partially online. In-person class sizes were reduced in size and include all necessary PPE equipment.

Classes, When They Return, Will be Smaller and Contain Added Safety Measures

Note to aspiring journeymen: you can still learn your trade, but you will need to be adaptable.

As has been the case with many facets of society in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Building Trades ability to run its apprenticeship programs in the usual manner. Schools have switched to online formats this spring to enable learning to continue amidst social distancing. But the curriculum of trades professions often requires a high degree of hands-on learning, creating a hurdle for apprenticeship administrators to confront.

When the shelter-in-place order was given on March 16, Pile Drivers Local 34 made the decision to shut down its training center, said Reid Witmondt, Local 34’s apprenticeship coordinator. When they reopened the center in June, class sizes were reduced to no more than nine apprentices with the instructor in the room. Half of our furniture was removed to adhere to social distancing requirements and the organization installed plexiglass to help stop the spread. Everyone wears a mask the whole time they’re at the training center, according to Witmondt.

“We’re also supplying face shields that apprentices wear here at the training center and also while they’re at the shop area,” Witmondt said.

In the past, up to four apprentices would be working on a project together during class sessions, but now apprentices work on tasks solo to enable proper social distancing. Witmondt said that prior to the pandemic, apprentices would be able to rely on one another to get through projects, but current circumstances require them to approach the curriculum in a more independent manner.

“They’re developing multiple skills sets and really honing their skills,” he said.

While working on getting the apprenticeship curriculum developed into an online format, Witmondt said that Personal Training Zones are employed at the training center providing each student with a 12 by 12-foot area to work in while the instructor teaches from a three-foot high platform.

Following a brief shutdown of classes, the Local 8 Elevator Constructors Apprenticeship Program went fully virtual for the remainder of the school year. Mark Thomas, Local 8 business manager, said that the shift to online learning has insured that no one has fallen behind in their learning schedule, though he added that the transition to an online format has been a bit of a challenge for some students who thrive in hands-on learning environments. “Classes are scheduled to resume in mid-August, but it has not been determined whether they will be online or in person.

Leonard Gonzales, executive director of the Laborer’s Training and Retraining Trust Fund for Northern California, said that Laborer’s apprenticeship programs have continued partially in-person and partially online. In-person class sizes were reduced to nine trainees and one instructor, while online courses focused on OSHA training, infectious disease prevention, hazardous recertification and environmental courses.

“The online courses assisted with helping apprentices keep up with their Related Supplemental Instruction,” Gonzalez said.  “As construction projects began to open up over the past few weeks, many of our affiliates find themselves with a shortage of apprentices.  Many of the pre-apprenticeship programs we are affiliated with were shut down as well, which severed our pathway temporarily for direct entry. However, those programs are beginning to come back online and Local 1130 recently indentured six new apprentices from our Merced College Program.”

“In addition to working with the basic crafts and state building trades administering an electronic training curriculum for COVID-19 preparedness, we have been diligently complying with the governors protocols while managing to continue to train, with those protocols in place, individuals that we’ll all need in the industry in the near future,” added Vince Courtney, assistant to the business manager, Northern California District Council of Laborers. “Keeping those candidates, our instructors, and administrative staff safe has been an absolute priority throughout this pandemic and we’ll continue to place the highest value on the health and safety of them as we cautiously move forward.”

Like many other unions, Glaziers Local 718 shuttered in-person classes, but program leaders continued to accept new apprentices based on an expected high demand for skilled labor. The new apprentices started their field work while taking online OSHA certifications and COVID-19-related trainings in the interim.

“We need a good 100 more Glaziers to get through the year,” said Bart Pantoja, Local 718 business representative.

Pantoja anticipates that in-person classes will recommence by late July. The apprenticeship program leadership has been proactive in investing in an advanced disinfecting technology that can disinfect any entire room in a matter of minutes. He said that they’re taking every possible precaution at the Contra Costa County training facilities and going even beyond requirements to get the program back up and running and keep everyone safe by supplying PPE and limiting class sizes.

The Local 718 Apprenticeship Program generally schedules one week every quarter for trainees to attend in-person sessions and review a wide spectrum of aspects of the trade including safety and equipment curriculum. Such in-person work occurs during three of the five-year-long program. If some apprentices missed hours this spring due to COVID-19, they will still have plenty of time to make up the requirements to become journeymen A significant portion of the program occurs in the field where apprentices get on-the-job experience installing various types of glass outside of the classroom.

“I think online coursework is going to be available because we don’t know what the future holds for us for the rest of this year,” Pantoja said. “I think the Apprenticeship Board is trying to take every consideration into account. We made some headway there with the training available online and will keep the fires going with that, while continuing to look at adding more to it, seeing what works best and having it available in case we have another shelter-in-place.”

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