OUR Clemson

University Facilities launches apprenticeship programs for team members to learn trade skills


As the director of Lean Processes in University Facilities, one of Tom Jones’ tasks is finding ways to improve recruitment and retain skilled employees.

Many of the positions in University Facilities are skilled trades requiring certifications and licenses. To become qualified, team members need to complete a comprehensive training program. The apprenticeship program was developed to help meet that training need.

More than two years ago, Jones and University Facilities’ Workforce Development Coordinator, Cecelia Jackson, began working with the Apprenticeship Carolina office of the S.C. Technical College System and the U.S. Department of Labor to develop apprenticeship programs in University Facilities. 

They developed curricula using available educational resources like Tri-County Technical College and business partners and submitted the plans to the Labor Department, which approved apprenticeship programs in HVAC, Life Safety (fire suppression systems), Multi-Skill Maintenance, Plumbing and Custodial work. Two more – for electricians and high-voltage electricians – have been submitted for approval.

By the end of this month, the first team members will enter the University Facilities’ apprenticeship program for certified HVAC and plumbing technicians. Additional team members will be entering a program to become Certified Professional Custodians, which includes mastering proper cleaning techniques and chemical management for custodial work.

Jones said he expects all University custodians to become certified professionals recognized by the Department of Labor in the next year and a half.

“Our plan is to write an apprenticeship program for every skill in University Facilities,” he said. It would include training in construction, painting, locksmithing, welding and more. University Facilities Employee Development Coordinator Wiley McLane is in charge of implementing the apprenticeship programs.

In addition to the apprenticeship programs, an internal internship program is being developed for current employees looking to explore new skills and opportunities. As part of that internship, they could be offered an apprenticeship.

Jones said these employee development programs are available to current employees and new hires, such as high school graduates who want to pursue a trade.

“We think these apprenticeships will be a tremendous opportunity for Facilities and the University,” said Todd Barnette, associate vice president and chief Facilities officer. “Our team members will be able to learn valuable new skills and advance in their careers and we will build a pool of qualified people to fill skilled trade positions as they become available.”

While there is a risk the newly trained tradespeople can take their skills somewhere else, Jones is not too concerned about that.

For one thing, many people enjoy working at Clemson University and he believes they will stay.

“While some may choose to leave, we are an education institution so we’re training people all the time and they’re going off somewhere else,” he said. “It’s who we are.”

 “There is something much worse than training someone up and them leaving, and that’s not training them, and they stay.”