Program Offers Opportunity to Apprentices, Skilled Workers to the University

July 27, 2007 -- The University of Virginia’s plan to “grow its own” trades people is still bearing fruit.

State and University officials celebrated the 25th anniversary of Facilities Management’s apprentice program in a July 26 ceremony at the Rotunda. A standing-room-only audience in the Dome Room applauded the program’s six new graduates, nine employees who have just entered it and 14 members of the first graduating class which entered the program in 1982.

“I don’t know where we would have gotten workers with the skill and the integrity without this program,” said Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
“The first 22 people in the program risked a lot,” said Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget. “They were getting into something new, relocating from safe in-house jobs. They were stepping outside their comfort zone.”

In 25 years, 98 people have graduated from the apprentice program. Of these, 66 still work for the University, divided between the Medical Center and the academic side. There are currently 31 apprentices enrolled in the program, including the nine inducted Thursday.

Apprentices are trained in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and plastering and electronics, said Donald Sundgren, chief facilities officer for the University.  The number of available apprenticeships is determined by the departments’ needs, and candidates are selected through application, then interview. If not already working at the University, apprentices become U.Va. employees when they start the program.

The University was the first state agency with an apprentice program, according to C. Ray Davenport, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, who spoke at the ceremony. The state partners with the University as a co-sponsor, and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center hosts the program’s classroom sessions. The U.Va. program’s success has become a model for other state agencies, he said.

“The four years and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training will be time well-spent,” Davenport said to the apprentices. “You will learn essential, in-demand skills.”

He lauded the U.Va. apprentice program as the best job-training effort he has ever seen. “Your skill and hard work will benefit you, your family, your employer and the commonwealth,” he said. “Take advantage of every opportunity.”

Sandridge thanked the workers’ families for their support. He noted that many apprentices also graduated from local high schools, which highlights the home-grown nature of the University’s workforce. He also stressed the importance of the work they perform.

“Don’t underestimate the role you play in the education of each student and the care of each patient and the enjoyment of each visitor to these Grounds,” Sandridge told the workers.

The program shows the University’s commitment to training its employees, said Jay Klingel, the director of business management services and former apprentice program manager. It has also raised quality of U.Va. employees and increased the numbers of certified trades people, such as electricians and plumbers, on the payroll.

The University must look forward and backward simultaneously, said Sundgren, the chief facilities officer. As the University expands, more workers will be required to maintain the new buildings. But the University also needs craftsmen with the skills to maintain the historical buildings on Grounds.

Sheehy noted that nine women have completed the program, three of whom still work for the University. The first woman graduated from in 1987 and there are three in the program now, including two inducted Thursday.

Sheehy suggested the new apprentices emulate those who have gone before them, praising the graduates from the first class as “among the best and the brightest at the University.”

“These are your opportunities,” she said. “You have before you people who support and will give you room to grow.”