Doing it their Way

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Apprenticeship program teaches and inspires

They've been cooks, bus drivers, flaggers, care-givers, and casino workers.
Now Lynette Jimicum, Tina Lyle and Udora Rangel want a future. A
pre-apprenticeship construction program at the Tulalip Tribal Employment
Rights Office (TERO) Training Center is helping them get there.

For Udora Rangel, the 16-week program, administered by nearby Edmonds
Community College, is a way of getting a GED. Twenty-three weeks pregnant,
she wants her high school diploma equivalent before she has her baby so she
can get a job anywhere. For her, the pre-apprenticeship program is a step
towards achieving that objective: it teaches math one day a week, and
provides hands-on experience by requiring her - and other students enrolled
- to read blueprints, calculate dimensions and understand ratios. "I like
the way they teach - that hands-on approach. I learn better that way," she
said. "If you show me how to do something, I can understand it."

Tina Lyle said much the same thing. "This on-the-job training is the best,
and the instructor (Randy Silbey, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy but now
teaches construction) helps when you screw up or don't understand
something. When I first came, I didn't know anything - not even what those
little lines meant on a tape measure."

But Lyle, a mature student, has learned and she wants a job where she's
"out and about. I just can't sit behind a desk," she said. She likes
flagging and would do it all the time if Washington's rainy weather
allowed. However, she is pragmatic and sees the value of additional
training. The construction program gives Lyle that and she knows the job
possibilities are excellent. Between 2002 and 2012, Washington state
expects to average almost 1,100 openings in the construction trade
annually.

Even closer to home, the tribe's expansion plans over the next five years
include a water treatment plant, second major retail facility, water theme
park, RV park and golf course. Lyle wants to "get in on that." Since
students learn everything there is to know about constructing a house in
the four day-a-week course - from plumbing to electrical, pouring concrete
to framing, she could well find a spot.

Given her choice, she'd like to do framing. It's where her real interests
lie, and she'd like eventually to be qualified and work either as a
construction worker or possibly even the manager of a crew. That she's a
woman entering a traditionally male-dominated world (according to the
Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, only
7 percent of apprentices in the construction trade are women) doesn't
bother Lyle. "It did at first when I first came into the class," she
admited (only three of the program's participants are women), but it
doesn't anymore. I'm doing this for me."

Lynette Jimicum is there to help her. She wants Lyle and each one of her
other 18 students in the program to succeed. As the program's first female
assistant classroom instructor, it's part of her job. A job that also
includes timekeeping, helping the instructor teach hand tool basics, how to
read blueprints, prepare footing and foundation, do framing, ceilings and
rafters, in addition to electricity, and some plumbing.

What is not included in her job description is her personal commitment. The
phone calls she makes at 6 a.m. to wake a student so they are ready for her
to pick up just after 7 a.m. The taking aside to find out what's the
matter. "A lot of them are family so I can say things which others might
not be able to say without offending them," Jimicum said. Or the jokes she
tells when she recognizes someone is scared, afraid of failing and perhaps
on the threshold of dropping out. "If I can get them to smile, they loosen
up and begin to learn. And once they start learning, they're more
interested in coming back the next day."

But Jimicum isn't a teacher - just a mother to five boys, one of whom went
to college and is now involved in tribal business, another who is attending
college to become the tribe's first biologist. She's always loved carpentry
and heard about the program last year from a niece and her boyfriend who
had enrolled. She signed up and "loved it" almost immediately. "I feel good
about building something, then stepping back and being able to say 'I did
that.'" Jimicum graduated in February, and when the former assistant
instructor left to take up an apprenticeship, she applied and got the job.
When it ends in mid June, she hopes follow her predecessor, take and pass
her exams to become a full-time apprentice in the carpenters union.

The only one of its kind in Washington state, the pre-apprenticeship
construction program is the brainchild of Teri Gobin of the Tulalip TERO,
herself one of the few women in a management position with the tribe. She
approached Jenene Szuch of Edmonds Community College about the need for a
program that would solve the shortage of skilled construction workers not
only among her tribe and other local tribal members, but also within the
community's general labor force. With the backing of their respective
organizations, the two women approached several community partners to help
them develop a training program, which would not only would provide
students with the basic understanding and competencies associated with the
construction trade, but also offer a hands-on, applied learning experience
that benefited the entire local community.

In 2002, the program received a grant from the Snohomish County Workforce
Development Council, and, in 2003, funding from the Native American
Vocational Technical Education Program (NAVTEP) - one of only 35 programs
nationally to be funded. That same year, the program was nominated for a
Workforce Development Best Practice Award that is presented annually to
innovative work programs by the Workforce Training and Education
Coordinating Board. Funding during the 2004 - 2005 school year is expected
again through NAVTEP.

To date more than 35 students have completed the program and the majority
are working in construction-related activities in the area.