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March 16, 2007

In a first-of-its-kind program designed to fill positions at the Physical Plant and train Athens-area residents, the university recently launched an apprenticeship program.

With approval from the U.S. Department of Labor, the program teaches skilled trades to workers in exchange for their promise to work at UGA after their training is finished. Each participant is required to log hours at the job site and inside classrooms at Athens Technical College.

"After an extensive searching process we were finally ready to start this program, which we designed to be mutually beneficial both to the workers and to the university," said Ralph Johnson, associate vice president for the Physical Plant. "I think it's really exciting because we've had this concept in mind for a couple of years and just received approval from the U.S. Department of Labor."

The combined focus on learning from textbooks and on the job can allow the participants to get a more rounded understanding of the intricacies of their new jobs, according to Johnson.

"The expectations are pretty high, and they should be high. This is the flagship program," he said. "We're breaking a lot of ground here. This is the first time there's ever been a carpenter-apprentice program in Athens-Clarke County."

The participants are filling vacancies in the mechanic, carpentry and heating ventilation and air conditioning departments. The apprentices are already at work, tending to campus needs.

"We actually train them on the job," said Reginald Woods, human resources senior manager at Physical Plant. "They'll work with a journeyman for a while, and while they're doing that, they'll put in some academic work in the classroom."

Each participant is required to work for the university for two years after finishing the training. After that, the workers can stay on board at UGA or seek employment outside campus.

Chris Whitehead already has a job with UGA, so committing to stay on board wasn't an issue. For him, opportunities to refine his skills and expand his knowledge sold him on the program.

"Service in heating and air conditioning always interested me," he said. "A lot of the material is basic, but I'm learning this stuff in depth and really finding out how it all works. It's interesting."

John Kilpatrick, an apprentice in the carpentry shop, said he was attracted to the idea of learning a new trade that he could use for the rest of his life.

"I wanted a job where I got to do different things throughout the day, not just sit at a desk or do the same thing over and over," he said. "So when this came along, it was a perfect chance for me."