Nearly 62 percent of organizations surveyed are struggling to fill skilled trade positions in plumbing, electric, masonry, and more. This has been especially true as the number of retiring baby boomers continues to grow.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in construction, along with health care and personal care, will account for one-third of all new jobs through 2022.

In light of these statistics, the Virginia Tech Facilities Department is taking an active role in bridging these burgeoning skills gaps by tapping into talent already serving in the department.

Through the Facilities Apprenticeship Program launched in 2015, current facilities employees in pay bands 1 or 2 can take advantage of structured learning and paid on-the-job training in long-term career pathways like plumbing and electric, heavy equipment operation, roofing, trades, and more.

Upon completion of the four-year program, apprentices not only gain full-time jobs within facilities, but highly valued industry skillsets and credentials that will serve them for life.

Hands-on rotations include carpentry, masonry, painting, glasswork, electrical systems, roofing, and more. Apprentices serve as full-time facilities employees, responding to jobs across campus and earning competitive wages from the start. They also participate in ongoing classroom learning and are required in some cases to test for and receive trades licensure through the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.

One of the defining features of the Apprenticeship Program is the ongoing mentorship apprentices receive in the field from facilities colleagues. From step-by-step guidance to address a roofing leak, to letting participants solve a plumbing issue, this mentorship has made all the difference, according to the inaugural graduating apprentice class.

“The best thing about the program has been the ability to learn from a variety of different mentors within the department. Everyone has showed a genuine openness to helping us grow,” said Frankie Stanley. Stanley graduated from the program as a trades mechanic this summer.

“Our mentors always encourage us to problem solve. They stressed that it is okay to make mistakes; actually, that is how we’re supposed to learn,” added Pam Tickle, who also graduated as a trades mechanic.

The opportunity to learn by doing – even by making mistakes – lends itself well to everyone entering the Apprenticeship Program, especially those coming from fields beyond the trades.

In fact, Stanley, Tickle, and John Breen, HVAC technician and the third apprentice graduating in the inaugural class, got their start as housekeepers at Virginia Tech before becoming apprentices. All three served for many years in housekeeping before joining as apprentices, taking a big leap of faith in entering a program that requires a substantial time commitment, rigorous on-the-job training, and ongoing coursework.

When asked what advice they would give to someone considering participating in the Apprenticeship Program, Breen, Stanley, and Tickle would all give them the same emphatic response: Go for it.

“You just need to step out of your comfort zone and be open to new experiences. The skills you’ll gain in the program will serve you for the rest of your life — both at work and at home,” noted Breen.

The Facilities Department is currently seeking new Apprenticeship Program participants. Click here to learn more about the program, including eligibility requirements.

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