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Apprenticeship fair helps bolster labor pool

Service members try their hand at skilled laborer jobs like roofing, bricklaying, concrete finishing

Published: 12:27PM September 13th, 2012
Apprenticeship fair helps bolster labor pool

Scott Hughes/Northwest Guardian

Jose Ruiz, right, runs a jack hammer under the supervision of Jared Ross during a JBLM Education and Apprenticeship Fair.

Peter Lahmann injured his neck in a high school football game and didn’t meet the military’s medical standards, so he became a laborer.

On Sept. 6, he demonstrated the trade that he has learned to love to hundreds of Soldiers, retirees and family members attending the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Education and Apprenticeship Fair at Stone Education Center.

Now as the apprenticeship coordinator for the Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust Fund, chairman of the Washington State Apprenticeship Coordinators Association and a 39-year member of the Laborers’ Union, Lahmann is looking for skilled workers.

“Our applicant pool of good, quality workers is down,” Lahmann said. “So we look to the military to help bolster the quality of workers in the industry.”

The fair, the first of its kind at JBLM, offered hands-on opportunities to try out skilled trades like bricklaying, roofing and concrete finishing. Attendees operated a bulldozer, pounded out sheet metal and broke up concrete with a jackhammer.

According to education counselor intern Julie Kelly, roughly 6,000 service members from JBLM transition out of the military every year. Those transitioning service members need to be connected with organizations that are hiring, said education services specialist Amy Moorash.

“We have some of the most highly qualified individuals on this installation,” Moorash said. “They could step right into an apprenticeship program and get paid for their work while learning a new skill.”

Through a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction, apprentices prepare for careers in the skilled trades while earning a living wage, collecting raises along the way to reflect increasing experience and commitment. They become journeymen with internationally recognized trade certifications, salaries and full benefits.

Moorash said certain military occupational specialties, like those found in sustainment or combat engineer units, mirror apprenticeship opportunities. Those service members already have backgrounds and abilities associated with skilled trades, paving the way for their transitions into skilled apprenticeship programs.

Many of those demonstrating trades were veterans themselves, like Jared Ross, an organizer for the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers. After serving in the infantry for four years at JBLM, Ross got out of the Army and started pouring concrete for a local union. Eleven years later, he now leads efforts to organize local union chapters for laborers.

Thirty apprenticeship programs and 50 academic and service organizations were represented at the fair, which drew a huge crowd of about 1,200 attendees. Several colleges and universities had information available regarding education benefits for veterans, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program.

“Most universities now have full-time staff devoted to helping veterans navigate the educational system,” Gonzaga University Assistant Dean of Admissions Joan Sarles said.

Gonzaga, a private university in Spokane, Wash., even has plans to build a veteran’s center on campus.

“We hope it will help veterans see that they’re sought after, they’re valuable,” Sarles said.

Peter Lahmann agrees. For him, bringing the apprenticeship demonstrations to JBLM is beneficial for both the skilled trade industry and transitioning service members.

“We’re seeking quality workers, and our jobs pay good wages and benefits,” Lehmann said. “(Service members) should know these jobs are here.”