Apprenticeship Program Makes Big Difference in Recruitment

Wed June 10, 2020 - Southeast Edition #13
Mary Yamin-Garone – CEG Correspondent



Thanks to a Pre-Apprenticeship Program in Heavy Highway Construction, lives are changing.

It's no secret that constructing highways and bridges (aka heavy highway construction) is an exciting field with higher than average job growth. The demand for a wide variety of road construction craft professions means companies are constantly looking for workers. Unfortunately, not everyone makes the grade.

Enter the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). The DOT funds the apprenticeship program to train underrepresented and disadvantaged individuals (women, veterans and minorities) in heavy highway construction. Its goal is to expand the pool of qualified workers for enrollment into the ALDOT On-The-Job Training Program (contingent upon completion of this Pre-Apprenticeship Program).

Ronica Ondocsin, instructor, NCCER, Heavy Highway for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, helps ALDOT find people to hire into highway construction. "They asked us if we would put together an on-the-job pilot training program for ALDOT that's funded by the federal highway administration," Ondocsin explained to CEG. "As a result, we're developing a curriculum and a pathway that allows us to train those new to the highway construction industry and get them into that career path. The goal would be to make it an ongoing program so there's a group of trainees every year who are ready to be hired by prime contractors or subcontractors."

The 2019-2020 program is being facilitated by The University of Alabama in Huntsville, in partnership with Calhoun Community College. The curriculum teaches fundamentals of the industry, along with specific skills and knowledge of heavy highway construction. Instructors from both institutions deliver the curriculum.

Program goals include:

  • Deliver FREE training in pre-employment skills.
  • Provide FREE technical training in heavy highway construction.
  • Assist participants in acquiring and maintaining employment in the highway construction industry.
  • Help participants obtain nationally recognized credentials that will transfer with the student to any job.

The Heavy Highway Construction Pre-Apprenticeship Program is made up of two components. Component I is the Ready to Work module plus pre-employment training (80 hours). It includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 10-hour construction training and American Traffic Safety Services Association-certified flagger training. Component II is the NCCER Core and Heavy Highway Construction, Level 1 (240 hours).

There is no cost to participants. This one-year program is completely financed by the Federal Highway Administration.

Ready to Work

Alabama's Ready to Work program provides trainees with the entry-level skills necessary to be employed by most of the businesses and industries in the state. The training curriculum is set to standards cited by business and industry leaders throughout Alabama, and the skills cited in the U.S. Department of Labor's Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) reports.

Participants must be adult education eligible and able to read at a 9th grade level. Essential requirements for successful completion include:

  • 95 percent attendance and punctuality rate.
  • Satisfactory achievement of work ethic, organizational skills, attitude and motivation.
  • Satisfactory achievement of problem-solving skills, workplace behaviors, financial education, customer service, computer skills, job acquisition skills and operation skills.

According to Houston Blackwood, Calhoun's program director, "Ready to Work is for people who've held a minimum wage or part-time job their whole life. Their whole life may be 22 years or 50. Many are re-entering society from incarceration. They've never gone through an interview process, been in an office setting or had any type of workplace skills. Ready to Work gives them everything they need to go for a formal interview — how to dress, talk, write a resume, apply for jobs. They'll also accrue workplace math and computer skills. Thanks to the Pre-Apprenticeship Program, they'll have a starting point where they can successfully navigate entry into the workforce."

The OSHA 10-Hour Construction Training Course provides workers with a basic knowledge of the most common safety and health hazards found on construction sites. The course also provides students with an overview of how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration operates. There are no prerequisites required.

The ATSSA's Flagger Training Course teaches students how to be a safe and effective flagger. They learn why proper flagger operations are important; the standard skill set of a good flagger; how to apply and identify standard flagger control references; and learn standard flagger practices for various situations.

NCCER Core and Heavy Highway Construction Level 1

Heavy Highway Construction professionals build the infrastructure, working on roads, bridges and ports, otherwise called non-building construction. A trained heavy highway construction worker needs basic construction math skills and knowledge of heavy equipment operations, safety, earthmoving, hand tools and traffic regulations.

The NCCER Core Curriculum is a prerequisite to all other Level 1 craft curriculum. Modules cover topics such as:

  • Basic Safety (Construction Site Safety Orientation)
  • Intro to Construction Math
  • Intro to Hand Tools
  • Intro to Power Tools
  • Intro to Construction Drawings
  • Basic Communication Skills

NCCER Heavy Highway Construction, Level 1 consists of 12 modules:

  • Orientation to the Trade (7.5 hrs.)
  • Heavy Highway Construction Equipment (10 hrs.)
  • Heavy Highway Construction Safety (5 hrs.)
  • Work-Zone Safety (5 hrs.)
  • Soils (10 hrs.)
  • Site Work (20 hrs.)
  • Excavation Math (17.5 hrs.)
  • Interpreting Civil Drawings (20 hrs.)
  • Rigging Practices (15 hrs.)
  • Crane Safety and Emergency Procedures (25 hrs.)
  • Basic Principles of Cranes (15 hrs.)
  • Crane Communications (10 hrs.)

Upon satisfactory completion of the program, students will be awarded national credentials, including Core Curriculum and Highway/Heavy Construction Level 1, 2nd edition of the NCCER certification program. They'll also be placed with a prime contractor in the area.

Each student also receives approximately 25 hours of seat time to become familiar with heavy highway construction equipment. Seat time may be on sophisticated simulation equipment or supervised, hands-on in-field exposure.

Fast Forward

Where would the founders like the program to be in five years? "Our goal is to make sure the curriculum is working and is the best way to recruit participants," Ondocsin stated. "The reason we partnered with Calhoun was so we could hand-off the curriculum to multiple community colleges in Alabama. They'd be able to teach it in their regions. The result would be a pool of highway construction individuals in every region of the state. It would mean new, young blood coming into the construction industry and making it their career."

The first phase of the program ran from Nov. 13 through Dec. 13. Eight participants completed Phase 1, including one female apprentice. The NCCR Core Curriculum runs from Jan. 6 through Feb. 26. The NCCER Heavy Highway Construction runs from March 2 through July 29.

For more information, visit https://alhighwayojt.uah.edu/home. CEG