For Portland-area plumbers and fitters, no more night school


Classrooms were crowded, and parking lots were full. Students were exhausted, showing up to learn after 10-hour work days. Dominic DePiero, United Association of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 training center director, realized something had to change. That something was night school.

Similar to programs in other building trades, Local 290’s five-year apprenticeship training program combines 216 hours a year of classroom instruction with paid on-the-job learning overseen by journeymen members. And the classes have always been held at night after the on-the-job hours.

“For apprentices under their normal schedule, they get done with a 10-hour day and then race to get to the training center and just have enough time to go through a drive thru to grab dinner,” DePiero told the Labor Press. “They’re in school two nights a week, three hours a night, till 10 o’clock. It really was brutal. What are we trying to do here? It’s about the least successful training method to try to teach people that are completely exhausted. It’s been that way forever. And it’s been a challenge for us forever.”

What’s more, with apprentice enrollment growing, Local 290’s Tualatin training center was maxed out. In the last three years, apprentice enrollment has risen from about 500 to over 750.If it continued its tradition of night school, the training trust wouldn’t be able to train enough new apprentices and also keep up the skills of existing journeymen. 

So starting September 2022, they tried something new. For 250 first-year apprentices who began the program then, the trust switched to daytime classes at the Tualatin training center. Apprentices were divided up into cohorts. Every seven or eight weeks, each cohort spends a five-day week taking daytime classes eight hours a day.  

By all accounts, the change has been a massive success.

“The apprentices are rested. They’re able to concentrate and are retaining what they learn. And what we’ve discovered is in every class, we’ve been able to at least double the curriculum, and in a lot of the classes, we’ve been able to triple the amount of curriculum in the same amount of time because they’re rested and ready to take the information on.”

Longer classes means a smaller share of classroom time is consumed by setup and take down of classroom equipment.

Day school also reduces time on the road. Tualatin, where Local 290’s training center is located, is notorious for slow-moving traffic. Night school meant apprentices had to trek to Tualatin 72 times a year. Now they make the trip just 25 times.

As the day school pilot program comes to a close in July, DePiero says that it’s been so successful that come Labor Day, the training center will switch to day school for all apprentices.

Learning from the first year’s experience, next year’s classes will run from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — mirroring members’ regular work schedule, so that classroom instruction weeks won’t create disruptions with child care, for example. 

The training trust plans to switch to day school the following year in its other training centers: Redmond, Springfield, Salem, Coos Bay, White City, Oregon; and Eureka, California.

“The advantages that we’ve realized changing to day school have been tremendous,” DePiero said. “And the biggest one is: Our apprentices are at home every night eating dinner with their family.”


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