DSHS Trades Apprenticeship Program starts second class in eastern Washington, expands to Buckley

Kerry Clark, plumber supervisor, left, with apprentice Caleb Cole. Photo courtesy of Esme Crosson.
Kerry Clark, plumber supervisor, left, with apprentice Caleb Cole. Photo courtesy of Esme Crosson.

Contact: Norah West, DSHS Media Relations, 360–489–5587

It’s been more than 18 months since the Department of Social and Health Services was approved by the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council to launch its Trades Apprenticeship Program, only to be met head-on by a global pandemic. Despite the myriad challenges presented by COVID-19, the program got off the ground in September 2020 and now has its first three apprentices in place at its Medical Lake campus in eastern Washington, serving Lakeland Village and Eastern State Hospital. The students have nearly a full year of apprenticeship under their belts and when they graduate over the next years, depending on their program, they will qualify as journey-level painters, plumbers and maintenance carpenters.

“We want to ensure succession planning for our facilities,” explained Kellett Sayre, director of DSHS’ Maintenance and Operations Division, where the apprenticeship program is housed, adding that the pandemic prompted many retirements in the division. The division provides support services to DSHS residential facilities and hospitals so that their physical environment is conducive to the care and treatment of residents. Its trades staff repairs, renews and replaces installed building equipment, site infrastructure and campus utility systems.

At the same time the retirements brought vacancies that desperately need filled, COVID-19 also brought candidates to apprenticeship who were eager to learn a new career as well find an employer that offered excellent health care, support for families and the promise of a secure retirement plan. DSHS was just the place.

“We have people interested in this program coming from all walks of life and with all kinds of experiences,” explained Trades Apprenticeship Program manager and management analyst Esme Crosson.

“I want a job I can grow with,” said one carpenter apprentice at DSHS’ Consolidated Support Services in Spokane. It’s a theme that’s repeated within the entire Maintenance and Operations division as well, and a priority for the whole team.

The first of its kind in any state agency, this program provides the opportunity for students to have classroom and hands-on training to build journey-level skills. When they complete their studies, they will be journey-level in their field, meaning they are fully qualified and able to perform a specific trade without supervision.

Originally slated to start with a team at Rainier School as well, the program delayed that cohort due to the pandemic. DSHS recruited this past month for painter positions at Rainier School with a start date sometime in September.

“We want to grow this program as we find out what works,” added Sayre. Along with painters, plumbers and maintenance carpenters, the program is adding two new trades in the next class — stationary steam plant engineers, who will earn a boiler operator license, and heavy-equipment operators, who will earn a commercial driver’s license.

For more information about the Trades Apprenticeship Program, visit its web page.