With the carpentry skills acquired through the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities’ apprenticeship program, trades mechanic James Pritchard could build a log cabin.

He completed four years of on-the-job training in carpentry, painting, demolitions, and more, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, to become Virginia Tech’s most recent trades apprenticeship graduate. The experiential learning and networking opportunities offered by the program will provide Pritchard lifelong carpentry expertise, helping to build out his future career and personal opportunities.

Inspired by a passion and curiosity for house building, Pritchard applied to the apprenticeship upon joining the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities in 2016. He previously served as a line cook in Dining Services for four years.

Established in 2015, the apprenticeship program offers on-the-job learning and paid training in long-term career pathways, such as plumbing, electric, carpentry, roofing, heavy equipment operation, HVAC, and refrigeration. Participants in the program also engage in ongoing classroom learning and, in some cases, test for and receive trades licensure through the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.

Upon completion of the four-year program, apprentices not only gain full-time jobs within facilities, but highly valued industry skill sets and credentials that will serve them for life.

As an apprentice, Pritchard partook in projects including painting walls, installing doors and glass, creating office partitions, and conducting demolitions. “Framing and building walls were my favorite, because the average person wouldn’t notice them unless they weren’t constructed correctly,” said Pritchard.

The program’s operations in Pritchard’s final year were shifted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike other education programs, the apprenticeship program remained in-person. As essential workers, the trades team at Virginia Tech quickly adopted alternating schedules to complete campus projects.

“If the carpenters were asked to create a hole for the plumbing team, previously, we’d all be on site to make sure the hole was the right size and in the right place. Instead, the teams adapted and became more effective in their communications and provided clear instructions so that we, the carpenters, could create the hole independently and correctly,” said Pritchard.

Throughout his four years as an apprentice, Pritchard forged unlikely relationships with people across Virginia Tech, including Hokie Stone masons. "I never worked with stone or brick before. I never lived in a brick or stone house, so it was unlikely I would really get to know a mason,” said Pritchard. “While working as an apprentice, I got to learn under Ronnie Worrell how to lay brick, block, and stone. Ronnie made it look easy because he is so good at it, but it is a very involved process to lay bricks. He's a good teacher. He was patient and he taught me well."

The Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities continues to recruit apprenticeship applicants. Those interested in learning more can contact anwatson@vt.edu for more information.

Pritchard strongly encourages members of the university community to take advantage of the program and the unique growth experiences it offers.

“The apprenticeship program provides you with lifelong knowledge applicable in the real world. You’ll own a house one day, and even if you’re not maintaining it by yourself, it’s critical to know what needs to be maintained and how,” said Pritchard. “Be confident and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; that is the only way to learn.”

If a four-year-long program seems daunting, Pritchard shares the following wisdom.

“Time goes by fast. When you look back on four years and think about how fast it went, time works the same way moving forward. Before you know it, you will have completed your apprenticeship.”

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