Program teaches new work skills

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

BETHEL -- Alex Evan holds a torch to two sections of copper piping, melding the reddish-brown pipes together with a silver scar.

Welding and plumbing are just two of the skills the 19-year-old learned in a construction apprenticeship program late last month in Bethel.

Organizers of the training hope Evan will put his new skills to work when he returns to his home village of Upper Kalskag.

Evan spent the week sharpening his construction skills inside the shop of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus along with nine other men in the Building, Maintenance, and Repair Apprenticeship Program. The class moved on to electricity the next week.

The men temporarily left construction projects building housing in their home villages to attend three weeks of training. After the training is complete, the men will spend more hands-on hours working toward obtaining the Building, Maintenance, and Repair (BMR) Certificate.

''It's my first time doing all of this and it's lots of fun,'' Evan said. ''I'm learning all these different trades that I never knew before. When I was young I wondered how all this stuff works and now I know.''

Certification qualifies the 28 apprentices in the program as journeymen and gives them the ability to work as an entry level construction workers. The trainees spent three weeks in July learning carpentry skills which allowed them to apprentice under experienced carpenters on building sites.

Construction skills are needed in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, said Craig Hatley, training coordinator at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union in Anchorage and instructor for the workshop.

The workshop familiarizes the apprentices with the methods and tools electricians, carpenters and plumbers use everyday. The training is being offered through Alaska Works Partnership with the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority to build low-income housing in Yukon-Kuskokwim villages.

But the future of the apprenticeship program lies with the Yuut Elitnaurviat Learning Center, or People's Learning Center, that is already partly funded for construction in Bethel. The $9 million vocational school, as it's commonly called, will offer technical training not available to students in some of the areas more remote villages. State and federal funding of $4 million has already been approved for the schools construction and Gov. Tony Knowles has included another $900,000 in his 2003 budget.

The training that will be offered parallels what is taught in the industry, said Cliff Andrews, education specialist for career and technical education for the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

While prospective students have to interview for a place in the apprenticeship program, students enrolling in the Career Pathways Program would receive free training.

''They wouldn't have to interview for entry into the apprenticeship program,'' Andrew said. ''It gives them a jump over others.''

Evan is helping a team build 10 houses in Kalskag. He hopes the skills he learns will enable him to someday build his own house.

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