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The Apprenticeship Program at UH-MC

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

Like many parents of high school students, Kevin Aquino’s folks wanted him to go to college. But he knew it wasn’t for him.

“Thank goodness for my best friend Joshua’s dad!” said Aquino. “He (Steven Suyat) was the business agent for the carpenters’ union and he had both of us join the program when we graduated from high school.”

Aquino calls it “pivotal in my whole life.”

The program Aquino is talking about is the UH-MC Apprenticeship Program, part of our Extended Learning and Workforce Development, which provides classes and hands-on experience for union apprenticeship. Every trade is represented — from carpenters, plumbers and electricians to masons, painters, glaziers and more — literally, every construction trade. At any given time, there are up to 340 men and women in the program. To enter the four-year program, applicants need to be at least 18 years old, have a high school or equivalency diploma and pass one of the union tests which focus on math. Successful completion is, basically, a guarantee of a good job immediately and the potential for a lifetime of great professional satisfaction and high income.

Mike Young was also encouraged by a dad — his — to enter the program right out of high school.

“My dad was in the program in the ’70s,” Young said. “He became a carpenter and worked his way all the way up to senior supervisor before retiring from Dick Pacific Construction.”

After completing the program and working himself up through the carpentry ranks from apprenticeship through to foreman and eventually owner of his own company, Wide Open Construction, Young became the program coordinator four years ago.

“The good thing is that I came through the program — and also taught carpentry for 13 years — so I know exactly how it works and how to keep making it better,” explained Young. “Back when I was in the program, we hardly did anything hands-on. Nowadays, the majority is hands-on. Students learn faster when they can see it, touch it.”

Before the end of this year, that “hands-on” experience will mean a house built by apprentices in Waiohuli over the course of one semester will be turned over to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and become a home for a family who has been on the list waiting.

Thanks to Young, the apprentices also partner with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity.

“We had a bunch of apprentices in several different trades — masons, roofers, carpenters and more — help finish houses up in Kahoma (Lahaina). It’s a win-win — community service plus hands-on training.”

The program is not just an alternative to college for graduating high school seniors. Jason Alexander Hufalar joined the program in 2004 when he was in his 30s.

“I wanted to learn how to build a house,” he said. On his way up the carpentry ladder, he hit a speed bump and was incarcerated for a short time.

“I couldn’t pay my dues but I followed the union rules, wrote letters to both the O’ahu and Maui offices, was guided in the right direction by some union members, asked the right questions and was reinstated at 80 percent salary (instead of 40 percent). I worked really hard and I really wanted that journeyman’s certificate.”

He successfully completed the program this year. He is the definition of perseverance.

Truth be told, Hufalar’s dream from small-kid time — and maybe still yet — was to be a stand-up comedian, a la Rap Reiplinger and Andy Bumatai. But he definitely acknowledges the precarious nature of that line of work and the value of his experience in the apprenticeship program.

“A good carpenter is never out of work,” he said.

Aquino would agree. He completed the program in the mid-2000s and today is a licensed general contractor with his own company. He established Maui Topnotch Construction Inc. three years ago and now has two employees.

“It’s such a good structure,” he said of the program. “It gives young apprentices a format that works. There’s no way I could have started my own company without that structure in my early career. I’m happy it’s still going and it keeps improving every year.”

To learn more about the apprenticeship program, please visit elwd.maui.hawaii.edu/ap

prenticeship/. To learn about all the programs offered at UH-Maui College, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/programs/.

* Dr. Lui K. Hokoana is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka’ana Mana’o, which means “sharing thoughts,” appears on the fourth Saturday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.

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