Free courses helping West County residents earn starting union wage of $22 an hour

Free courses help West County residents earn starting union wage of $22 an hour.

West County residents can earn more than $22 an hour as an apprentice plumber, welder or fitter by attending free classes aimed at helping them pass an entrance exam.

The program, started 12 years ago by retired plumber Mike Mahoney and SGI Construction Management Senior Vice President Lance Jackson, is aimed at increasing the number of local residents qualified for skilled construction jobs.

“We felt there weren’t enough West County residents getting jobs,” Mahoney said. “Rather than ask unions to lower their standards, we decided to bring everyone up to those standards.”

Those interested in the program should call (510) 215-4666. Classes occur Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Serra Campus at 6028 Ralston Ave. in Richmond.

The program works wonders, Mahoney said, as more than 85 percent of students who complete the classes pass the math and mechanical reasoning test to become an apprentice. The typical pass rate is less than 15 percent, he added.

The classes preparing students for the test aren’t easy. Thankfully, students are taught by phenomenal teacher John Cunha, Mahoney said. Students are not only taught mathematical skills but how to take the test quickly.

After passing the test, students are offered guidance on interviewing with their union.

From there, the future is bright. Apprentices start at $22 an hour and earn generous health benefits after working 300 hours. After a year, they join the union pension system.

Mahoney encourages students to stick with the classes.

“One of our biggest problems is people drop out because it’s hard,” he said. “But if they stick with it, they’ll get it.”