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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Area apprenticeships continue to enroll applicants amid COVID-19

Bouten Construction Co. employees work on the Ronald McDonald House Charities expansion on March 19, 2019.  (By Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

As the coronavirus pandemic forced school officials to change how they deliver classroom instruction, area apprenticeship programs have adapted by reducing class sizes and shifting a portion of their curriculum online.

Despite the changes, apprenticeship programs are continuing to enroll students to fill a need for workers in skilled trades, which are deemed an essential businesses during the pandemic.

Apprenticeships provide workers a combination of classroom instruction and paid, on-the-job training that leads to a certification or credential.

Apprentices are needed in several industries, including the building trades, as a large portion of the workforce is nearing retirement. When the stay-home order took hold in mid-March, the Inland Empire Electrical apprenticeship program quickly pivoted its training online even though it continued to offer in-person training in smaller groups.

“Fortunately, we had most of our hands-on training done for the year. We were able to complete classroom training that typically goes through May online,” said Jon Medaris, training director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 73’s apprenticeship program.

The Inland Empire Electrical apprenticeship, a joint partnership between IBEW Local 73 and the National Electrical Contractors Association, offers programs for residential, commercial, industrial and low-voltage electricians.

Spokane Community College, which partners with employers to provide apprenticeship training for students, has experienced an increase in skilled applicants for programs, said Kenna May, manager of apprenticeship for Spokane Community College.

SCC also had to shift a portion of its apprenticeship classroom curriculum online, in addition to offering reduced in-person classes with social distancing, sanitizing and safety measures in place.

“It’s changing the way we are offering training, but we were able to adapt and get through,” she said.

Earlier this month, SCC and Eastern Washington University announced an agreement that provides a pathway for a journeyman to obtain an associate’s degree at SCC and transfer to EWU to earn a bachelor’s degree in applied technology.

As part of the agreement, SCC updated some courses in its multi-occupational trades associate’s degree program to align with classes offered for EWU’s applied technology program.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported more than 585,000 active apprentices in 23,000 programs nationwide.

Carpenters; construction laborers; electrical power line installers and repair workers; electricians; heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers; plumbers; pipefitters and steamfitters; and sheet metal workers, are projected to add more than 500,000 jobs nationwide by 2028, according to the Department of Labor.

The United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 44 has a five-year apprenticeship program that provides students with training for professions in plumbing, pipefitting, welding and as HVAC technicians, said Brett Wideman, business manager for United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 44.

The association’s training center, like SCC and IBEW, shifted several portions of curriculum online and purchased Chromebooks for students.

It also reduced the size of its in-person classes, Wideman said.

Wideman said the five-year apprenticeship is a vast program that allows participants to obtain plumbing and medical gas licenses, allowing them to work on medical gas piping at hospitals, among other things.

Enrollment has doubled in five years for the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 44’s apprenticeship program, which received more than 100 applications in 2020, Wideman said.

“It’s the best-kept secret out there,” he said, referring to the apprenticeship program.

“It’s a life changer and a very viable avenue for somebody who doesn’t have a four-year degree.”Amy Edelen can be reached at (509) 459-5581 or at