Laborers Union Apprenticeship Program Trains a New Generation of Skilled Laborers
By Paul Burton
Like other Building Trades Apprenticeships, the Laborers’ training program prepares men and women for careers in construction. The apprenticeship program at the Northern California Laborers Training Center in San Ramon is relatively new, and has been providing training for new laborers for just 12 years. Apprenticeship Coordinator Manny Carrillo said as the work that Laborers do has become more specialized and the workers need to learn more skills, the program is now mandatory.
Carrillo said that Apprentices take an initial three week class and focus on safety training and the fundamentals of construction. They get a rough idea of the work flow, then go to work for 800 to 1,000 hours and follow up with more classes on concrete, tool use, and hazardous waste. Apprentice program enrollees become eligible for certification as journeymen laborers after completing 3,600 hours of supervised work on job sites. They get work experience in building construction, heavy/highway construction and environmental remediation and must complete 240 hours of classroom study in general construction and core laborer skills.
Carrillo said it generally takes two to two and a half years to get through training and meet the requirements. He said the combination of classroom study and on the job training, “is a great way to build a workforce.”
“Now that work is coming back, it’s more challenging to find people but union is doing outreach to schools and pre-apprenticeship programs,” Carrillo said. Apprentices are encouraged to start their training at pre-apprenticeship programs like the Cypress Mandela Training Center in Oakland, City Build in San Francisco, YouthBuild in San Joaquin County, and the Conservation Corps in Placer County. All offer classes in math and basic skills, and prepare the future laborers to be responsible workers.
Instructor Ken Mochida recently ran a safety class for a group of new apprenticeships. The former U.S. Marine, who began teaching at the center 10 months ago after working as a laborer, emphasizes the importance of the trainees taking their jobs and the training seriously, showing up on time and prepared for work. “I want them to get their minds in the right direction,” he said. “The jobs can be dangerous and they need to know how to recognize and correct any dangers.” The safety class shows the apprentices the correct use of personal protective gear and understanding OSHA regulations.
Mochida said he also wants them to have a high level of respect for each other. “Coming from the field, I know how tough it is out there,” he said. “I want them to be strong physically, emotionally and mentally when they graduate from the program. That takes a combination of having a good attitude and knowing your stuff.” Mochida said laborers nowadays have more skills than in the past and “can do many things.” The diversity of the work also makes it interesting and challenging, he said.
Classess offered include grade checking, oxy torch cutting, concrete work, asbestos abatement, and safety. Other skills taught include tunneling, trenching, drilling, forklift operation, solar photovoltaics installation, and rigging. Students also learn blueprint reading and learn the math involved in grade leveling. A journeylevel worker can make $27 an hour and retire after 25 years with good benefits. Most of the current class is also working.
As construction Laborers, they will be able to lay asphalt, pour and place concrete, lay pipe, install storm drains, do environmental remediation, perform demolition, and work in a variety of tasks in almost all construction types, including bridges, tunnels, airports, roads, dams, and residential, commercial, and public buildings. Laborers also perform many safety-related duties such as flagging and traffic control.
The program serves trainees from all of the 46 northern California counties, with some trainees coming from as far north as the Oregon border. Those who live outside the immediate area are housed at the Training Center in a dormitory complex behind the main building.
For information on the requirements for application, check the union’s website, www.norcalaborers.org. Applicants may request an application by telephone at (925) 556-0858 or in person or by mail at: Northern California Laborers Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, 1001 Westside Drive San Ramon, CA 94583.
For more photos, see the Building Trades Apprenticeship Programs Gallery