TOCC Expands Workforce Apprenticeship Program

Nov 9th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-2: Workforce Development, Tribal College News
By Martha S. Lee

Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) works closely with the tribal government, local agencies, and businesses to develop the workforce and create opportunities in the Tohono O’odham Nation. In the past two years, TOCC has started a direct care worker certificate course and has updated its program in early childhood education to streamline transfer programs and credentialing. Now the college is focusing on expanding its apprenticeship program by seeking new recruits for its Building and Construction Technologies (BCT) program. Apprentices take BCT courses for college credit while also working for pay in the field.

According to Robert Wambolt, director of the apprenticeship program, the additional on-the-job learning positions are the result of partnerships with the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority (TOUA) Water Services and with Baboquivari Unified School District (BUSD). “We would like to thank BUSD and TOUA Water for supporting the apprenticeship program in developing the Tohono O’odham Nation’s workforce. We’re doing this in the spirit of I-We:mta to build a sustainable workforce for the future,” Wombolt says. I-We:mta is the O’odham concept of working together, and it is one of TOCC’s core values.

Apprenticeships are available in four trades: carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and painting. The first three trades require four years to complete, while painting is a three-year program. After completing the apprenticeship program, the students receive a U.S. Department of Labor and an Arizona Department of Commerce Journeyman card. Individuals may also continue to pursue a certificate or associate’s degree in building and construction technology at TOCC. In recruiting new apprentices, TOCC is emphasizing the financial stability that comes with a career in BCT. Electrical instructor Verline Andrews, who is a journeyman electrician and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, says that electrical is an exciting field because it is always changing: “This is a growing industry, for an energetic individual, who does not mind getting a little dirty. This field will be helpful for you financially and Am’o i-ha-wemt g m-hemackamga, will help your people.”

TOCC’s apprenticeship program goes beyond the career focus to develop a sense of community connection and service in its participants. Apprentices and instructors take on many repair and renovation projects for elders, with the program subsidizing labor costs. In recent years, TOCC apprentices were involved in constructing the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Desert Diamond Casino and Hotel, and they have also helped build the college’s new main campus. Graduates of the program often find success working locally, in the Tohono O’odham Nation and southern Arizona.

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