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Sonny Cannon of Ketchikan said he wouldn't be getting plumbing and pipefitting union apprenticeship training this week if it weren't for new classes being offered in Juneau.
Cannon, 26, tried to attend similar classes in Fairbanks last year, but couldn't go because of the transportation and housing logistics of being away for two months. Now with an 8-week-old baby girl, it would have been nearly impossible for him to go to Fairbanks this year, he said.
"By having this offered in Juneau, we're talking about two hours versus a whole day of travel," Cannon said in an interview Wednesday.
He, along with 10 others, were being trained as part of a new apprenticeship program at the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 262's Southeast Regional Training Center on Anka Street. Plumbers and pipefitters is the lone building trade union in Southeast with a regional training center.
Last summer the union bought two buildings from Alaska Stone & Concrete to house its union headquarters and provide training for careers in plumbing, pipefitting, welding and service technician work, said union business manager Max Mielke. One building includes an efficiency apartment to house out-of-town journeymen and apprentices.
Previously, the union operated its headquarters out of a house about half that size and offered minimal apprenticeship training in Juneau, Mielke said. Apprentices from Southeast have had to travel to Anchorage or Fairbanks to get the union-required 10,000 hours of combined classroom, laboratory and on-the-job training. Apprentices can get 1,200 of those hours at the training center. An apprentice becomes a journeyman after completing the hours.
The local union offers four weeks of classes divided into two sessions. The second session ends this Saturday.
Last Wednesday, apprentices were learning how to use a T-drill to form branches on copper piping that typically transport air, water or heat throughout a commercial or residential building. About 300 such branches exist at the Juneau Police Department facility, said Training Coordinator Brad Austin.
Fourth-year apprentice Carl Bogren enjoys being in a class with different-level apprentices, he said. In Fairbanks, apprentices are grouped by year due to larger class sizes.
"This is nice for me," Bogren said. "I can see the level I'm at and the level other people are at."
Bogren, a Native originally from Yakutat, now lives in Juneau and does plumbing and pipefitting work for Behrends Mechanical Inc., down the street from the training center. He plans to combine his hands-on training and college education to become a mechanical engineer.
Without classes in Juneau, Bogren would have had to plan months in advance to work out transportation and housing arrangements to take classes in Fairbanks, he said.
"This makes it more convenient and possible for me to get the education I'm required to take," Bogren said. "The Union is meeting me halfway on my education so it's not such a logistical problem for me."
After this week's session ends, the union will offer a special course May 19-23 to fifth-year union apprentices and journeymen on installing medical gas systems typically used at a hospital or dentist's office.
Alaska Works Partnership has recruited five out-of-town Native and non-Native rural Southeast applicants interested in taking classes in Juneau next year, said Apprentice Outreach Manager Tom Brice.
The nonprofit agency was developed in 1996 to ensure rural Alaskans have access to career opportunities in the construction trades industry.
Alaska Works will now be available to provide several services to these applicants as they prepare to interview for the apprentice program, Brice said. Those services include counseling about the requirements of an apprentice program, and preparing them for the interview with union officials. It also coordinates with other groups to pay for tuition, food and lodging.
"Having those classes in Juneau provides a better opportunity for success for the apprentice and the program," Brice said.
For Cannon, he now knows how to use the T-drill when he returns to his job at Ketchikan Mechanical Inc., he said.
"It's an excellent trade," he said. "Every day you can learn something new. There are many avenues to go down."
Tara Sidor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.