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We’re Growing Our Own

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A behind the scenes look at VTA’s groundbreaking apprenticeship program kicked off the 2nd Annual National Apprenticeship Week, which began Monday, November 14.
 
The apprentice program creates a path for well paid jobs in the transit industry. The tour for local and statewide industry and labor leaders provided a close-up look at on-the-job training for apprentices learning how to operate and maintain VTA vehicles, engage in light rail overhead line repair and track work and other specialized training areas.
 
The Transit Apprenticeships for Professional Career Advancement (TAPCA) initiative is a collaboration between the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 (ATU), the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Mission College in Santa Clara with support from the California Labor Federation and the “California Apprenticeship Initiative” of California Community Colleges.
 
This is a cutting-edge industry-based program connecting employers, labor unions, and educational agencies to establish career pathways to good jobs in the transit industry to fill the need for transit workers. Mission College is offering college credit for the apprenticeship program.  
 
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority was the first transit agency in the nation to offer apprenticeships for coach operators and mechanics. The agency began the program to help fill a void expected by the so-called “Silver Tsunami”, a wave of retirement-eligible workers expected to leave the transit industry between now and the next 5 to 10 years.

      

 
“We were having trouble filling those positions even with nationwide searches,” said VTA’s Chief Operating Officer, Inez Evans.  “So we decided to get together with our union and create a program where we’re training up the next generation of transit workers ourselves.”
 
VTA expanded its program to “grow our own” by adding new technical training programs for overhead line and track workers this past summer, with plans to add light rail operator apprenticeships next year.
 
 "We knew we couldn’t just wait around for people to apply for these jobs,” said Nuria Fernandez, VTA’s General Manager and CEO.  “We had to go out and find them and train them and set them on a path to leadership in this industry."
 
The very successful labor-management partnership is a model for other agencies in the state and around the nation facing the same labor pressures who are looking to VTA for help in starting similar programs at their own agencies.

 
Apprenticeship programs are receiving national attention for the unique opportunities they provide working people. The “earn-while-you-learn” model provides an attainable path for workers looking to gain skills and a solid career with wages that can sustain a family.
 
Coach operator apprentice Deniese Alejandro joined the program a year ago, after losing a 25-year job at a Silicon Valley auto assembly plant.
 
“I had zero when I left the auto plant,” said Alejandro. “I didn’t know how I was going to make my house payment, and then I got into this program with benefits and a salary.  It’s a Godsend.”
        
Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, which offered support for the program early on, said of TAPCA, “Creating these apprenticeships demonstrates how high road partnerships work because they involve the two stakeholders most invested in the long periods of planning, development and sustainability – labor and management.”
 
Daniel Peck, President of Mission College, expressed his enthusiasm over the success of this program.  “Our role as educators is to prepare the next generation of workers. We are so proud to see this program come together for the vision of our community.

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