AUSTIN (KXAN) — Workforce Solutions Capital Area and UA Local 286 Plumbers & Pipefitters are holding an open house event this Saturday to promote their local pre-apprenticeship class and encourage residents to pursue a career in a trade.

The Multi-Craft Core Curriculum Pre-Apprenticeship Program (MC3) is a two-week course that guides participants through a range of skills across the trades, first aid and safety, and OSHA certification.

Workforce Solutions Capital Area program manager Michelle Buford says that this program, developed by the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), offers a better entry into the trades.

“You went directly to a place, you go through an interview, maybe they take you…maybe you got put into an apprentice program if they liked you,” Buford said about how apprenticeships used to work. “And you incurred all costs, there was no other way in… other than directly into those groups. When [NABTU] really looked at this process, it was to make sure we were training folks, getting them ready to get on the job, make sure they were getting a fair wage, make sure that they had that opportunity.”

The program is hands-on and union-led, training participants in an introduction to the basic skills in all of the trades.

“Once they, if they are accepted into the program, they’re going to give them an opportunity to learn,” Buford said. “They can learn sheet metal, they can learn ironwork, they can learn [from] plumbers and pipefitters, they can learn [from] electricians…this program gives them a chance to touch it all.”

Once a participant completes the program, they are hired as an apprentice in the Austin area.

“After two weeks of training, guess what, you have a job, you’re earning money. So it’s just a small commitment, you’re talking, you know, about 80+ hours of your time, and then you’re out there doing the job you want to do,” Buford said.

Local 286 Training Director Joe Cooper said the union works with 36 employers to place MC3 participants in an apprenticeship, and that the other involved unions each have a similar amount of employers in their trades.

Diversifying the Trades

Another of Workforce Solutions’ goals for the training is to help women enter a traditionally male-dominated field.

“We’d like to see more women in trades. The need is out there,” Buford said. “This is a great time for young folks…because the workforce in construction is between the ages of 35 and 64. That workforce is going to age out eventually. So we need some new blood in there.”

“The average age of a plumber in Texas, a master plumber, is definitely 54. I think the journeyman is down a little bit, but it’s still up in the 50s,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to replenish our ranks.”

When asked if the MC3 program is making an impact, Cooper said it “absolutely helps with retention rates.” He adds that over 200 people have gone through the program, a 92% completion rate, and 87% of them have gone on to become apprentices.

“The MC3 was created to diversify our apprenticeships, if you look at the building trades across the country, it looks a lot like me,” Cooper said. “It was created to target underserved communities, women and transitioning veterans. We’re great at teaching people how to be plumbers and electricians and welders and all that other stuff. Not so great at reaching out to the community.”

Program graduate hopes others follow

In 2021, Mya Cruz worked at a Jiffy Lube in Austin after graduating from high school. A coworker told her that he had heard about welding jobs through a friend with the union.

They both went to the union hall and applied, but Cruz found that there was much more for her to learn first.

“As I was doing my application, I was speaking to Bryan Peabody (a Local 286 training coordinator), and he was asking, like, ‘Oh, do you have your OSHA 10? Do you have this? You have that?’ And I was kind of like a deer in the headlights,” Cruz said.

Peabody told Cruz about the MC3 program, which she applied to and completed.

“I was in a really big transition, you know, graduating high school and coming into adulthood and I needed to pick a path that was right for me. I think I learned pretty early on that working in an office or being in school, my entire life wasn’t for me. So finding out about a program that can help me get started in a trade where I can be working with my hands. It was nerve-wracking and fulfilling in the moment,” Cruz said.

Now, she’s two years into an apprenticeship with Local 286.

“I’ve gotten my hands on so many different projects within the last two years, I’ve been inside of Samsung, and I’ve been inside of Tesla,” Cruz said. “Those are two places that I never thought I’d step foot in. I really do enjoy the fact that like, not every day is going to be the same. I look forward to seeing something different, and something new, and it’s really fulfilling and satisfying.”

To register for the open house on Saturday, visit the event page. The Austin-based MC3 classes are only available for Travis County residents. Each class of the curriculum is only open to 15-30 people, but Buford said that they may add more classes depending on demand. Typically, the classes are held three times a year.

“If you don’t have your mind set on what you want to do, at least starting out in a trade is a good start,” Cruz said. “Like, in our society, like we constantly need people, we constantly need tradesmen, like, the world is built on people building things, you know?”