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Carpenter pre-apprentice program graduates find employment in difficult economy

Carpenter pre-apprentice program Freddy Espinosa is a 2011 graduate of Farmersville High School. Despite the economy, Freddy was able to find a job in construction, working for Oral E. Mitchum, Inc. on the new Shannon Ranch Elementary School in Visalia. Freddy's success is due, in part, to his participation in a new carpenter pre-apprentice program offered through his high school.

Launched during the 2010-2011 school year at Farmersville High School, the program is a partnership between the Farmersville Unified School District, the Carpenters Union and the Tulare County Office of Education's School-to-Career Program. Retired carpenter Dennis Clark is the program's instructor. "Farmersville is completely committed and sees the benefits of an apprenticeship program," he says. "It has been a success for everyone involved."

Dennis Clark brings tested, real-world experience to his classroom, having run crews of his own during his 30-year career as a carpenter. Students learn how to read a tape measure, calculate volumes, build forms and frame walls, while working outside in the elements whenever possible. "I try to season them to a typical construction site," says Mr. Clark. "And just like any job foreman, I don't except excuses from the students." Last year, Mr. Clark's students were able to complete an awning cover for the agriculture program and a portion of a large chicken coop.

On the Shannon Ranch Elementary School construction site, Freddy Espinosa works high above the floor atop a scissor lift, fastening straps that will keep the roof trusses securely in place. "Mr. Clark's class helped a lot; learning how to work with tools and read measurements," he says. He is thankful for the skills he learned and the employment he found, saying "this has been a great way to get life started."

Carpenter pre-apprentice program "We're not giving these students minimum wage jobs, we're giving them careers," says Mr. Clark. "Those of us who have worked in the trades all our lives love what we do. It's satisfying to pass our pride onto a new generation of quality apprentices."

Now that the program has two graduates working in construction, Mr. Clark has gotten feedback from the job site foremen. Mitchum's Keith Northcutt says Mr. Clark has welcomed him to provide feedback on the skills current students need to learn.

In Tulare, at the District Hospital's new multi-story addition, Farmersville High School graduate Jesse Ledesma is operating the construction elevator, transporting men and equipment from floor to floor. Jesse, a graduate of the pre-apprentice program, now works for Harris Construction. "I'm looking forward to learning a little of everything," he says. "I think if I work hard and pay attention, I will gain responsibilities over time."

The Farmersville High School pre-apprentice program is growing, with 20 students now enrolled. "Our hope is that all area districts will welcome a pre-apprentice program," says Kenny Lavender of the local carpenters union.

For more information on the pre-apprentice program, call Randy Wallace at (559) 733-6101.

Photos above:
~ Freddy Espinosa works at the new Shannon Ranch Elementary School construction site.
~ Jesse Ledesma is employed by Harris Construction at the site of Tulare District Hospital's new multi-story addition.