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Threesome Finds Apprentice Program Worth The Sacrifice

Published: December 1, 2010

To a person, they said it was a lot of work, extremely time consuming and often difficult. To a person, they said, that in the end, it was worth it. That was the consensus of Sherry Pawneshing, Sarah Reisenauer and Jesus Valenzuela of Facilities Management, who recently completed the CSU-State Employees Trades Council Joint Apprenticeship Program at CSULB.

The program is designed to provide on-the-job training and classroom instruction to current employees and/or local community members who seek to acquire journey level skills in 10 established trades -– carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, locksmith, building services engineer, operating engineer, automotive/equipment mechanic, sheet metal worker and air conditioning/refrigeration mechanic.

“I always felt it was the right decision, but I’m not saying it wasn’t hard,” said Pawneshing, who earned a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from Cal Poly Pomona and began working in the CSULB Grounds Services in 1981 as a gardener. “There were times it was hard, physically for me, mentally for me, because there’s a whole new set of personalities you are working with, a whole new dynamics.”

“It’s a big sacrifice, mostly because you’re away from your family,” said Valenzuela, who, like Pawneshing began the program in 2006. “It’s a big commitment, but for anyone who is considering it, it’s definitely worth it. You just need to make sure you are prepared to go through it.” For Pawneshing and Valenzuela, it was a four-year program commitment, getting on-the-job training by day and attending classes two to three evenings a week. Days that began at 7 a.m. often didn’t end until 10 p.m. Reisenauer’s entry into the apprenticeship program was slightly different, joining it approximately halfway through, thanks to the efforts of a supervisor.

Since the apprentice program is not on a regular schedule and there was no word of one on the near horizon, Reisenauer began making the transition from groundskeeper to become a building services engineer through normal channels.

“I didn’t see the apprenticeship program happening any time soon,” she said. “I like the electrical part of things and I like to do stuff with my hands so I thought I’ll become a building services engineer, but through their way of doing it because the apprentice program wasn’t available.”

But approximately six months after she began the transition to a building services engineer position, the apprenticeship program did become available with openings in the Electrical and Plumbing shops.

“I was plugging along, going to school and taking on more and more building services engineer responsibilities and they were about halfway through the program,” said Reisenauer. “That’s when my supervisor Ed Parra said ‘Let me go back and look at your hours and see what you’ve done to see if that applies to the program and if they will accept it,’ and they did.”

And though their stories are different, there are similarities. Pawneshing and Reisnauer spent the better part of their careers on the 322-acre campus tending to the grounds in one way or another. Valenzuela began at CSULB in the Facility Management Warehouse at age 17 as a laborer, then became a mover before being promoted to run the Sign Shop.

“I’ve always like hard work. I like labor,” said Valenzuela, who earned an Associate of Arts degree in graphic arts from Long Beach City College. “I didn’t particularly think I was going to become a plumber, but the opportunity arose and I really like it.”

Threesome Finds Apprentice Program Worth The Sacrifice
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Recent apprenticeship graduates (l-r) Jesus Valenzuela, Sarah Reisenauer and Sherry Pawneshing.

“I could tell from the beginning that Jesus was going to be an outstanding apprentice and plumber. He is the type of person that thinks ahead which made teaching him so much easier,” said his mentor, plumber Al Vaca. “He would anticipate what needed to be done next and have it ready. It is a good feeling to watch a person improve their life and know that as a mentor, you helped contribute to that improvement. That is what the apprenticeship program is all about, helping people become a little more successful with their lives.”

“Al was very patient and I am very grateful for all he’s done for me,” Valenzuela said of his mentor. “He taught me and he would make sure I would do things right. He wouldn’t just tell me, he’d let me do it and it would force me to learn and figure it out. Al came from the same area I did, so he was helping me the way people helped him.”

For Pawneshing, it was simply just time for a change.

“The management in grounds had changed a couple of times and it was just time for me to do something else,” she said. “I’ve always like mechanical stuff and I learned about the program through facilities management.”

In July 2006, Pawneshing became an apprentice in the electrical shop working under mentor Greg Hayes. “You are off on your own,” she said, “but you aren’t thrown under the bus. They give you jobs that build up your experience and confidence. I looked at this as kind of like an adventure. You start out not knowing anything; the first day they had me on top of a ladder pulling wire.”

Reisenauer, who began at CSULB in 1987 as a grounds services groundsworker, moved to electrical services as a facilities worker I and was promoted to facilities worker II in Engineering Services in 2006 before finally getting involved with the apprenticeship program.

“I enjoy fixing things,” said Reisenauer, whose mentor was Building Service Engineer Arturo Torres. “I like working with my hands and I like seeing the end result and I see that in this job. I feel good about that and I like that I can contribute to the university and have the opportunity to do that. This is a great place to work and we have a great shop.”

“The apprenticeship program is an example of a labor/management cooperation that provides positive results,” said Rob Quirk, who recently retired as director of Facilities Management at CSULB. “It has given individuals on campus the opportunity for upward mobility and career advancement. The investment made by the apprentices in after-hours education, on-the-job training with a journey level mentor, and the support and commitment of the division, has created a positive situation for all involved.”