You might say that New Jersey's union members have already started down the Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education (PLACE) with great enthusiasm. The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters and the NJ Regional Council of Carpenters enrolled over 196 students into the NJ PLACE program in the first two weeks after the formal introduction of the program.
Douglas Wright, 22, and a fourth-year apprentice with Carpenters Local Union 623 out of Atlantic City, is among the state's first young apprentices to earn college credits toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Technical Studies. Douglas, who graduated from Atlantic County's Buena High School in 2002, will already have earned 25 credits when he completes his 4.5-year apprenticeship in about six months. He has also started taking one of the necessary college career elective classes, Codes, Contracts and Specifications, taught every Tuesday and Thursday night by a Gloucester County College professor at Thomas C. Ober Carpenters Training Center in Hammonton.
"I think they've given us an excellent opportunity," says Douglas. "You are working and working toward a degree at the same time. You get to collect that paycheck so you can actually afford to pay for college. If the college thing doesn't work out, you can always go back to working in the field. I always wanted to go back so I figured this would be a way that I could further my career in the trade."
Douglas is not yet sure how far he will take his budding college career to supplement his carpentry training. He says he is happy every day working with metal studs, sheet rock, trim and concrete and is just excited for the further opportunities that college credits will afford him--possibly working his way through the trade management ranks to supervisor or foreman on a job site. And if he chooses to continue his two-year degree at a four-year college, an option through the NJ PLACE program, he could even get into construction management, business management and other high-level careers. The bottom line: as a union building and construction trade apprentice, Douglas no longer has to choose between learning a professional trade and going to college. Now he can do both.