As far as career training programs go, apprenticeships are some of the best-kept secrets, said Jimmy Fish, executive director of Oklahoma Building and Construction Trades Council.

A recent presidential proclamation aims to help change that. The country’s first “National Apprenticeship Week” ends Saturday.

The initiative aims to increase emphasis on apprenticeships — programs that allow a worker to learn a skilled trade through planned, supervised, on-the-job training and related classroom instruction.

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“It gives us the opportunity to get the message out there,” Fish said.

The Oklahoma Building and Construction Trades Council represents a number of affiliated trades such as local unions for sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipe fitters, electrical workers and operating engineers, all of which have apprenticeship programs available.

“The unique thing about getting into an apprenticeship program is there is no cost to the applicant as far as training goes,” Fish said. “The programs are paid for by local union members and contractors based on their collective bargaining agreements.”

The programs allow apprentices — who work through the three- to five-year courses to earn the status of skilled journeymen or women — to take classes at night while they work and earn money during the day.

Mike Davidson, training coordinator with the Tulsa Pipe Trades Training School, said he likes to promote the school’s HVAC, plumbing, pipefitting and welding programs as “earn while you learn.”

Apprentices also receive full retirement and health care benefits, including family coverage at no extra cost, as soon as they enter a program.

Arthur Winters, training coordinator with Tulsa’s Sheet Metal J.A.C. Training School, said the programs are important to him because they ensure that industries aren’t taking the chance of losing the skills that have been passed down through the years.

The new generation will carry on the trade, he said.

“Above all, it’s not a job — it’s a career,” said Michael Stark, business manager with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 627. “The idea is this is the craft you’re going to follow.”

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Casey Smith 918-732-8106