For Job Corps Apprentice, the Journey Begins

Plumbing trades program connects students with future careers.
For Job Corps Apprentice, the Journey Begins
Raha Kambale receives hands-on training as part of the Job Corps trades program.

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Raha Kambale, 20, has learned how to work with customers, install pumps, toilets, sinks, showers and more as part of a Job Corps program that included internships with two California plumbing companies and hands-on training at the PHCC-GSA-PUAC facility in San Diego. Now, he would like to become a full-time plumber.

Kambale became interested in plumbing while working with his uncle in the Congo of Africa.

“Every time he went to work, he took me with him,” Kambale says. “That’s how I learned. When I came here, that’s what I really wanted to do. Where I came from they don’t really have the systems like we do here. I want to learn more and more.”

Kambale was 17 when he immigrated with his father, mother and sister to the United States.

“When I came here I had a friend who told me about Job Corps. I applied for it and they took me.”

Learning opportunity

Job Corps is a free education and training program that helps students learn a career, earn a high school diploma or GED and find and keep a good job. Applicants must be at least 16 years old and qualify as low income. Job Corps has 125 centers nationwide, offering hands-on training in over 100 career technical areas.

“This program is for at-risk youth. Youth that graduated high school and maybe couldn’t find a line in college — couldn’t find their voice and decided they wanted to learn a trade,” says Jose Martinez (pictured with Raha), a Job Corps plumbing instructor, former Job Corps student and owner of JL Martinez Plumbing, serving the San Diego area.

 “Once they’re accepted, they do a tour of all the trades and choose one they like the most. For plumbing, it’s about 1,000 hours. For a student who has their high school degree, it takes them about six months. For someone who speaks English but doesn’t have their high school degree or driver’s license, it takes them about a year. And for someone like Raha, whose English is limited, a year-and-a-half to two years.”

Martinez says Raha, who graduated in February, was an outstanding student.  

“Now we’re waiting for him to get a job in the field,” says Martinez, who is also an instructor for PHCC (Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association) and ABC (Associated Building Contractors) San Diego. “When I get a chance, I take students up to the training center so they can see what it’s like to work with real plumbers.”

Job Corps provides pre-apprenticeship training, while PHCC and ABC provide training at the journeyman level.

Recruiting tool

Martinez says plumbing companies looking for new hires would do well to consider Job Corps applicants.

“When you use Craigslist, Yellow Pages, the newspaper, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he says. “A lot of times you’re going to get guys who say they know what they’re doing, but they’re going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars in damages, or more importantly, they might give your company a bad name. With Job Corps students you know where they stand. You know that either they made mistakes and are trying to straighten themselves out or they’re looking for a good career. Either way, they’ve invested their own time. They’re not forced to be here. For that reason, when employers pull my students, they know they’re getting the cream of the crop.”

On-the-job training

While enrolled in Job Corps, Kambale received technical training as part of a six-week apprenticeship with Bill Howe Plumbing of San Diego. From October through November, 2015, Kambale installed drain sewage pumps, waste and vent systems and water distribution systems. He located buried water and gas lines, worked on underground pipe installations and tested water supply piping using pressure techniques.

“The Job Corps students come to us as part of a shadow program,” says Julie Riddle, marketing director for Bill Howe Plumbing.

“Job Corps picks the students who are ready for apprenticeships; they give us a call, and when we have openings and availability, we bring them in.”

Students are paired with journey-level plumbers and also work in the warehouse.

“They cover all aspects of the job,” Riddle says.

Bill Howe has hired about 15 Job Corps students over the years and has three or four currently with the company.

Kambale also received training at BPI Plumbing in Chula Vista, California, primarily in plumbing construction — digging trenches for drainpipe, fixing toilets and sinks.

Alex Galicia (left), president and CEO of BPI Plumbing and a PHCC member, says he’s known about Job Corps since high school.

“I had a couple personal friends that went through the program, so I knew about it when the instructor called me about becoming involved. I had a positive view of it through my friends,” Galicia says. “One became a bricklayer and the other an electronics technician. They teach a lot of stuff, but my focus now is plumbing.”

BPI has been a Job Corps training participant for about seven years.

 “We have groups that come out to construction sites,” Galicia says. “They’ll spend the day there and even help out a little bit. It gives the instructor an opportunity to show them underground construction. The end result for us is we’ve hired some employees from that. It’s a good recruiting source.”

Safety certified

Students learn cutting and measuring for sewer construction and are made aware of job site safety. As part of their Job Corps training, students also receive OSHA certification.

 “We don’t have anyone who’s not certified at our sites,” Galicia says. “They do safety walks through the job site and get to utilize the tools they learned about. They have a good lab over there, but it takes a construction site to bring it all together.”

At the PHCC training facility, students learn tool safety and receive customer service training, study math, drawings and receive training on soldering water supply piping during one- and two-day skills sessions.

The journey ahead

Job Corps students hired by PHCC members can apply for the association’s four-year apprenticeship program.

“It’s a combination of class work, hands-on training within our warehouse for one night a week for four years,” says Melissa Baker, executive administrator for PHCC of San Diego. “They have to complete 8,000 hours in the field of on-the-job training to complete their apprenticeship and be able to sit for their journeyman’s exam.”

In February, Kambale graduated from the Jobs Corps program, received his diploma from Penn Foster High School and began looking for a job. His career goal is to be a good plumber, but the journey has only begun.

“Right now he’s in pre-apprenticeship,” Martinez says. “He has four or five more years to go. But the cool thing is employers know they’re not journeymen. They know that they’re learning. If the company sees the value and potential, they keep them. To see these students get a job is what makes it worthwhile. We love inspiring the next generation to become plumbers.”

Raha’s goal is to take that next step toward becoming a journeyman.

“I’m just waiting to start working,” he says. “I love working with new people and working with my hands. I can’t wait.”



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