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Precision Plumbing and Heating Systems Inc. co-owner Bob Roe, far right, joins the first class of seven enrolled in a U.S. Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship program. A progress board behind the Apprentice Tech Academy enrollees will track their progress — one for plumbing, one for HVAC service and one for HVAC install — through the program.

TRAVERSE CITY — Two new apprenticeship tracks, one company.

Northwest Michigan Works! last month launched its first U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeship in the region for plumbing and HVAC. Both new tracks are offered through a partnership with Traverse City’s Precision Plumbing and Heating Systems, Inc.

There are seven apprentices enrolled in the program, three in plumbing and four in HVAC. The program runs 2½ years in HVAC, 3 in plumbing.

“This is the first one we are sponsoring in the region,” said Certified Business Solutions Professional Evelyn Szpliet, manager of apprenticeships and business resources networks at Northwest Michigan Works! “We are acting as the intermediary between the Department of Labor and the employer.”

Cindy Weber, who handles public relations/marketing and special projects for Precision Plumbing and Heating, said the Traverse City company is pleased with the enrollment.

“Seven (apprentices) is an excellent start for this program,” Weber said. “Absolutely.”

Weber said Precision’s apprenticeship program begins with an interview process and a probationary period because “it’s a commitment from them and a commitment from us.” Weber said Precision does the same with its Michigan Going PRO apprenticeship program.

Weber said the multi-year commitment of the Department of Labor program puts added importance on the commitment to ensure apprentices are “set up for success.”

“We always tell the apprentices that we are their biggest cheerleaders,” Weber said.

The Department of Labor apprenticeship program offered through Northwest Michigan Works, under its Networks Northwest parent organization, uses some non-traditional training including virtual classroom and interactive related technical instruction. Even virtual reality components are utilized in the new program.

“In the professional trades there is a really big gap in the workforce,” Szpliet said. “Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to fill those gaps. We were seeing so many retention and recruitment issues for all the trades.”

“When you speak to anyone in construction, they’re very eager to find interested, qualified individuals,” said Weber. “I think we are all (in the trades) are finding there is a shortage.”

Apprentices receive paid on-the-job learning and guidance from professional mentors. Upon successful completion of the program, participants receive a national Journeyworker Credential for HVAC or Plumbing, along with a career certificate of completion from Cengage.

“This comprehensive program is designed to create a well-trained technician who can independently service and install home plumbing & HVAC systems with confidence,” Precision Plumbing and Heating Systems co-owner Bob Roe said in the release. “Precision’s goal is to provide this group of technicians with all the resources they need to be successful so they can enjoy long careers in this honorable industry.”

“They’re a wonderful, wonderful partner to work with,” Szpliet said of the partnership with Precision.

Szpliet said statistics from the Department of Labor, which recognizes 1,300 occupational titles for apprenticeships, show 94 percent of apprenticeships remain with the employer after the program is completed.

While the statistics are a national average, Szpliet said the retention rate is likely similar on a micro level.

“That’s about accurate,” she said. “That pretty much pertains to us as a region and as a state.”

Northwest Michigan Works! currently offers apprenticeships in 25 fields, from beekeeping to manufacturing.

“We are adding more and more all the time,” Szpliet said. “We work with all kinds of businesses, large and small, and pretty much every occupation we can think of.”

Szpliet said Northwest Michigan Works! is launching a formalized apprenticeship for a landscaping management technician in the coming weeks. The organization is also working on developing a program for a medical assistant and several youth apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeships and customized to each employer,” Szpliet said.

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