UNION COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT LEADERS HOPE MORE EMPLOYERS WILL USE APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM
By Alice Perry Linker
Observer Staff Writer
David Lowry plans to hire his third electrical apprentice in June.
A strong supporter of apprenticeship programs, Lowry, owner of Johnson Electric, also teaches electrical classes at Blue Mountain Community College. One apprentice in Lowrys shop will earn journeyman status come June.
You train apprentices in your shop, and they get trained to the way you run your business, Lowry said. You hope you train them and benefit them so theyll stay with you after they become journeymen.
Lowry is one of several Union County employers to use the apprentice system. Some Union County economic development leaders hope the idea will expand to many more employers, and theyre planning a meeting June 7 to explain the program to employers.
There are few apprenticeship opportunities in Eastern Oregon, said Union County Commissioner John Howard, who is spearheading the information session.
Howard said that Eastern Oregon has a shortage of plumbers, electricians, welders and other tradespeople.
Employer requests drive apprenticeship programs, said Jennifer Hills, coordinator at Blue Mountain Community College. When there are enough requests for apprentices, an application period opens.
You cant have apprentices unless you have those employers willing to train, she said.
When prospective apprentices apply, they choose the counties where they are willing to work. Applicants must have either a high school diploma or a GED and must have successfully completed a minimum of one year of algebra.
Hills agrees with Lowry about the employers benefits of apprenticeship.
The biggest benefit is the business provides opportunities for employees to educate themselves and become more skilled, Hills said. Its a total win for employers.
The benefits for electrical workers are equally good, Lowry said, but the work can be hard.
In Oregon, its a wide open field, he said. Oregon is short of electricians.
Steven Sims, director of the state apprentice program, said apprentice programs are usually created on a regional base.
Industry tells us all the time that theyve got a desperate demand, Sims said. Industry wants capable, competent people who are interested in making careers in the trades.
Recently, applications for an electrical apprenticeship program opened.
We sent over 100 notices to all kinds of businesses, and we had 26 people apply, Hills said. I was really shocked there were only 26.
Sims said he thinks some other types of careers are attracting people who might go into the trades.
If youre a journeyman in the electrical trade, you earn about $24 or $25 an hour, he said. In times you work in the dirt and mud. Sometimes the work is seasonal, you work long hours. People dont always see the long-term benefits.
Employers cant always choose the apprentice. After the application process is finished, the program establishes a prioritized list or selection pool. The list is open until an employer calls, and the name at the top of the list gets first refusal.
Some employers dont like it because they cant always pick the employee, Hills said. They must pick off the pool.
The program is not free, but costs are fairly low, Hills said. Employers pay about $35 monthly. BMCC charges $90 per term, plus books, but often apprentices pay the college fees, she said. Completion of the apprenticeship program requires a combination of work and classroom hours.
The states Sims said that the countywide approach being taken in Union County could be productive if those local industries start to say, we want to grow our own workforce. I think thats how you do it at the grassroots level.
The June 7 meeting, aimed at area employers, will begin at 7 p.m. in the La Grande Middle School Commons. Employers who want information about the meeting may call Karen Owen at the Union County Economic Development Corp., 963-0926.