What some might see as a non-traditional academic and career choice, Kendyl Brister, a junior at Cambridge High School, sees as an outstanding opportunity to do what she loves – work with her hands.
That opportunity is the pre-apprentice program through the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 495. A program that enables high school students to get a head start on the training required to become a journeyman in the plumbing, pipefitting, and welding fields.
Usually a five-year apprentice program that you must be 18 years old to start, the pre-apprentice program invites juniors and seniors in high school to complete the first year of the apprenticeship over a two-year period.
As with most skilled trades, the training includes a lot of hands-on opportunities, something that attracted Brister to the program.
“I became interested in the pre-apprentice program when I heard about how it was a hands-on program,” Brister said. “I understand things when I use my hands and enjoy being hands on.”
Brister is the first student from CHS to participate in a relatively new pre-apprentice program through the Plumbers and Pipefitters union. She is also one of the few females that is pursuing a career in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry.
“I was attracted to the program because I wanted to pursue a skilled trade and didn't want to worry about going to college,” Brister said. “My parents and Mrs. Quinn from the high school encouraged me to give it a try.”
Lovel Quinn is the career navigator at Cambridge High School and aspires to find the best possible education and career options for students.
“Kendyl is a perfect candidate for this program,” Quinn said. “She is a hard worker and thrives with hands on instruction. She loves the type of work she will be doing and sees the value in what she is learning. I am so excited for her.”
Isaac Evans, the training director at Local 495, agrees that the program is a good fit for students who like to work with their hands and may not be interested in pursuing a college degree.
“Really, this program is designed to help the kids who do not want to go to college,” Evans said. “I would have fallen into that group when I was that age.”
The pre-apprentice program starts during a students’ junior year. They spend one day per week in training at the Plumbers and Pipefitters facility learning the skills that an apprentice in the traditional program would be learning in one year.
Because the training is done one-day per week during school hours, most students are responsible for making up the classwork they miss when they are at training. Although, that is not a problem for Brister who is taking advantage of the remote learning option offered by Cambridge Schools this year.
Students in the pre-apprentice program can still participate in the usual extracurricular activities like sports, band, or clubs.
“We let them out a little earlier than other apprentices,” Evans said. “We make allowance so they can participate in extracurricular activities at their school.”
The curriculum for the program includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training for safety, first aid and CPR, and is heavy in basic math early in the program. Students quickly begin the hands-on training learning to weld, thread pipe, solder pipe and other necessary skills.
The hands-on training includes completing shop projects at the learning facility.
“Shop projects are a big part of the early learning,” said Evans. “One group will draw up a project and another group will install it, that way they understand the importance of making plans legible.”
Students in the pre-apprentice program also earn college credit through Owens Community College. During the first two years, the students can earn 12 to 13 hours of college credit in safety, math, and science, Evans shared.
Students in the pre-apprentice program are not obligated to complete the program after they complete their first two years and graduate high school. They can choose other options like going to college or entering the military.
“They make a decision at the end of the pre-apprentice program,” Evans said. “Someone who chooses a military commitment can return and start as a second-year apprentice when they leave the service.”
The benefits for the pre-apprentice is that the program is paid for by the school, they get a head start on apprentices joining the program after they finish high school, and when they are able to join the workforce as part of the program, they make more than $3 more per hour -- $27.26 per hour compared to $24.15 per hour.
Union tradespeople work in oil refineries, paper mills, nuclear power plants, manufacturing plants, hospitals, the automotive industry and more.
“Career options are plentiful right now as a new powerhouse in Byesville is open and there is one being built in nearby Wellsville,” Evans pointed out. “Two more of the gas-fire power generation plants are being planned in the area, one in Cadiz and one in Follansbee, West Virginia. There are similar plants in Dresden and Carrollton as well.”
The program doesn’t produce many house plumbers, but some will do commercial projects like hotels or hospitals.
The pre-apprentice program is in its third year and has accepted students from Caldwell, Meadowbrook, Shenandoah, Edison, Harrison Central, Buckeye Trail, and now, Cambridge High School.
To join the pre-apprentice program, a student must apply and go through the interview process with the board just like mainline apprentices. That process includes taking the Ohio Means Jobs assessment that helps determine skills and provides a baseline for the training program. Students must carry a 2.0 grade point average and have a 90 percent attendance rate.
“This is a good outreach program for the Plumbers and Pipefitters,” Evans said. “We are always looking for people who want to go into the field and it seems like pre-apprentice program is bringing us quality individuals.”
That includes female students.
“We have more females now than there used to be,” Evans said. “People just think it’s a guy thing, but we are starting to get more females.”
According to Evans, the first pre-apprentice group did not have any females, and the second group includes two. Brister is the only female in the third cohort.
“Being a female in the program with mainly males just shows that all women are capable of doing what they are good at,” Brister said. “It makes me feel good knowing that girls are in the program. It doesn’t mean anything that more men than women do something. In fact, sometimes the girls know more and are better at the skill than the boys.”
And whether they are male or female students, the pre-apprentice program is a great option for high school students.
“When I heard about the internship at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, I was sold,” Quinn said. “It is an amazing opportunity for our students. I am hoping that more students will look at this as a great option for their future.”
The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 495 serves Guernsey, Muskingum, Coshocton, Holmes, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Harrison, Noble, Jefferson, Columbiana, Morgan, and Belmont counties in Ohio and Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia. If interested in the pre-apprentice program, you can contact Evans at (740) 439-3623 or 1 (888) 432-0495 or visit their website at https://www.lu495.com/
Bister is a 15-year old junior at Cambridge High School and the daughter of Angie Voorhies and Trapper (Terry) Bister.