Training Its Own Labor Force: UVA’s Apprentice Program Turns 40

April 13, 2023 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia’s Facilities Management Department celebrated 40 years of its apprentice program this week with a jobs fair and a masonry demonstration at Alumni Hall.

The jobs fair featured representatives of the apprenticeship program, as well as companies with apprenticeship or entry-level trades positions, including ColonialWebb contractors, Carter Myers Automotive and Lee Construction Group. Virginia Career Works, Piedmont Division; and UVA Pipelines & Pathways, both local workforce development groups, also were represented.

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UVA’s apprenticeship program, the first of its kind to be established by a state agency in Virginia, promotes careers in the skilled trades, offering paid, on-the-job training and technical education in carpentry, masonry, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical trades. UVA is accepting applications from candidates online through April 30, more information is available on the UVA Apprenticeship Program website

Apprentices at job fair talking to new hires

Apprentices look over their future opportunities at a job fair at Alumni Hall on Tuesday. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Many former apprentices go on to careers at the University. Of the approximately 220 apprentices who have completed the program since it began in 1982, about 80% are either currently employed or have retired from the University.

Gordon Jones looking away from the camera

Gordon Jones, a member of the first apprentice class to become a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, retired in 2013. (Photo by Jane Centofante, Facilities Management)

Michael Flowers, a lead electrician in the Construction & Renovation Services Department, was a member of the first apprentice class and is still working at the University. A Charlottesville native, Flowers had been working as an assistant for a local electrician when he heard about the program. Once he established himself, he helped train some of those who came after him.

“Most of the people I helped teach have become teachers themselves, teaching the new people coming in,” Flowers said.

Flowers said he stayed at the University because it was a steady job.

“I like what I do, and I have had the privilege to work with some good guys,” Flowers said. “And they have taught me what they could – the right ways of doing things.”

As an apprentice, Flowers learned to be part of team and to pick up skills from other tradespeople.

“I have learned a little about carpentry, electronics, plumbing and things like that,” he said. “I have worked with people who aren’t afraid to show you something. And I have tried to pass that along to the younger people.”

Gordon Jones, another member of the first apprentice class who retired in 2013, had been working at ConAgra Foods in Crozet and part-time as a custodian cleaning Facilities Management’s office space when he saw an advertisement for the apprentice program. He became a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

“All I knew about air conditioning was a window unit,” he said. “I wanted to better myself. I thought it was something I could build on for life.”

He said initially it was rough and he learned a lot on his own, but he said as the program developed, people understood that training more people was for the betterment of everyone.

“I always thought that if I taught a guy to be the best that he can be, it took a lot of pressure off of me,” Jones said. “These guys could go and do the job and I didn’t have to hold their hands. I had that mentality to train guys the best I could and encourage them to go beyond me for education. I would train a guy to be able to go on a job by himself and feel confident in what he’s doing.”

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While early trainees such as Flowers and Jones selected a trade at the beginning of the process, the program recently launched its new 2+2 Program. This model gives apprentices the chance to experience the five main construction trades within Facilities Management during their first two years before choosing a specialization for their final two years in the program.

During the first two years, apprentices obtain basic construction knowledge and skills. After two years, apprentices are invited to select a trades specialty for their second two years of registered apprenticeship. On-the-job training is conducted with licensed journeypersons, mentors and supervisors in UVA’s state-of-the-art facilities.

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Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications