Gallegos apprenticeship building local talent in skilled trades | VailDaily.com

Gallegos apprenticeship building local talent in skilled trades

Marcus Martinez, left, and Alejandro Avita are part of the Gallegos Corporation's apprenticeship program. Apprentices are trained in masonry, concrete finishing and project supervision.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com |

For information or to sign up

The Gallegos Corporation is headquartered in Wolcott and has regional offices in Aspen and Denver. To learn more, call 970-926-3737 or go to www.gallegoscorp.com.

The masonry apprenticeship program is administered through The Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute and Construction Institute Training Council in Denver.

The concrete apprenticeship program was developed through cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor and National Center for Construction Education and Research.

EAGLE COUNTY — Marcus Martinez likes his job enough to show up for work on his 21st birthday, which is more responsible than most of us were.

Martinez and several others are part of an apprenticeship program created by the Gallegos Corp., one of the only true apprenticeship programs on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Home grown help

You cannot import enough qualified help, so Gallegos is growing its own, explained Joe Kleber, Gallegos vice president for operations.

It’s not just our region. Construction industry studies indicate that by the end of next year, the industry nationwide will be sort around 2 million skilled tradesmen.

“You can learn it over 20 or 30 years, but this accelerates everything,” said Gary Woodworth, the Gallegos chief operating officer.

The Gallegos crew was in a foremen’s meeting one afternoon when someone tossed out the apprentice program idea. It sort of floated there in the middle of the room for a few moments and, while it wasn’t like angels started singing “Ode to Joy,” they decided it was worth a try.

The labor pool is dwindling. When the recession hit in 2007 and construction died, unemployment in the industry hit 25 percent. Lots of people turned to other trades, Kleber said.

Brains and backs

Besides the on-the-job training you get during your work week, you spend four hours a week in the classroom for up to three years, depending on what trade you’re pursuing — masonry, concrete finishing or project supervision.

If you’re Alejandro Avita, 26, it’s “all of the above.”

“The certification is good all over the world,” Avita said.

They’d like you to stick around, but if you must leave you can take the certifications anywhere. That works out well, because Avita has already worked over a big part of the world.

Alejandro, Alex for short, worked 12 hour days, seven days a week rebuilding the Louisiana gulf coast after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Avita, Martinez and Oscar Ramirez, 31, have been with the program for a few semesters. Dominic Mascarenas, 18, just graduated Lake County High School in Leadville and almost immediately swapped his cap and gown for a hard hat and vest.

No one is ordered to become part of Gallegos’ apprenticeship program, Martinez said, but they are strongly encouraged.

“They explained how it works, and I decided to try it,” Ramirez said.

While the minimum is one class a week, Avita is something of an overachiever and attends three. He’s closing in on the end of the three-year program and is finishing the supervision course. His father has been with Gallegos for several years and occasionally Alejandro is his boss.

Martinez and Mascarenas are off to a good start. Martinez has been at it for a year and a half.

“The hard part is the class work,” said Scott Reardon, a Gallegos foreman. “The instruction is important and the School of Hard Knocks is one way to learn all this, but the apprenticeship program is so much better.”

Teachers are learners too

All the teachers are longtime Gallegos employees, so they know what you’ll need to know. The teachers are also learning things like public speaking, so it’s good for them, too.

Kleber teaches English language classes. Manuel Ortiz and Juan Becerra teach classes in Spanish.

“If you really want to learn something, teach it,” Becerra and Ortiz said.

Everyone starts with a safety class, because everything begins with safety, Kleber said.

“There are all kinds of ways to get injured on a construction site, and the last thing any of us is to call someone’s parents and tell a mother her child was injured,” Kleber said.

What you give and get

Apprentices need to be career oriented, and willing to work with both their hands and their brains.

They’re looking for people who — how do we put this delicately — possess the uncommon quality of common sense.

“Common sense makes life easier,” Kleber said.

The work can be both complicated and hard, and concrete is uncompromising. Bring a good work ethic to the job site and classroom, Reardon said.

“You can’t walk away from a pour because it’s break time,” Kleber said.

Among other things, both students and teachers learn about the history of masonry and that the good stuff lasts.

And while there’s satisfaction in doing something well and creating something that will outlast you, it’s also a job and money matters.

Woodworth said for people in Gallegos’ apprenticeship program earn $17 to $18 an hour. Finish the program and you can earn up to $28 an hour.

While you’re in the program, you’ll pay $10 a week for a couple reasons: to cover the cost of classroom materials and to make sure you get a little skin in the game. When you complete the semester you get the money back, plus a bump in pay.

“As we discussed adding the apprenticeship programs, it became evident that this would help Eagle County residents, as well as be a benefit to our employees and company,” Woodworth said. “The Gallegos Corp. has always been active with the youth in our communities and this builds on where most of our other efforts have ended, which is at high school graduation.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.



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