Pre-Apprentice Program Provides Classroom and On-the-Job Training

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The state of Iowa launched a new website this spring promoting apprenticeship programs as a way for students to earn while they learn. A local union is taking it a step further and starting a pilot program for a quality pre-apprenticeship.

Jane Eitel is working on her second career.

She said, "When I came back home, I said, I just need to do something in the trades because I don't want to teach anymore."

The former east coast teacher is now a student in a first-year apprentice program through the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33.

"I think people associate plumbing with plunging toilets. I think they think more residential sewers. My experience has not been that at all. It's been putting in lab air, deionized water lines. It's just amazing to me how much we do that doesn't involve sewage," she said.

That includes welding, checking inventory, and knowing all skills needed.

Training Director Eric Smith said, "Right now we get folks in and they don't know what's expected of them, or they don't know the math level they need, and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to learn."

Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33 Training Center is starting a new quality pre-apprenticeship program. Pre-apprentices will spend 160 hours in the classroom going over tools used on the job, math skills that are needed, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. After that, they'll get 320 hours of paid on-the-job experience.

"There are other avenues besides going to a traditional four-year college where you can be successful and have a good living with great benefits and a great career," said Smith.

First-year apprentices start at more than $15 an hour. They become a journeyperson within five years, making $33.65 an hour plus benefits.

Smith said, "They have two pension plans on top of that, health insurance, and probably the biggest thing is that pension plan. That's huge for us. It allows some of those guys to retire at 55 making as much as they do today."

Eitel said the pre-apprentice program would have helped her.

"I would have been able to come in and learn about all the tools, the names, how to use them, and go to a job site and be confident and not nervous about, they're going to kick me off this job site because I don't know what I'm doing,” she said.

The pilot program runs from June 11th through July 11th. The union plans to offer another session in September. You can apply on local 33's website.