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San Felipe Provides the Apprentices

By Jane Mahoney
For the Journal
    SAN FELIPE PUEBLO— A recent partnership signed between San Felipe Pueblo and an Albuquerque-based apprenticeship association is expected to provide dual benefits of on-the-job carpentry training and improved housing on pueblo land.
    The San Felipe Pueblo Housing Authority and the Central and Northern New Mexico Apprenticeship Association have agreed to establish a formal apprenticeship program using tribal housing projects to train San Felipe Pueblo members as carpenters.
    "We see this as a great opportunity," said Isaac Perez, director of the pueblo's housing authority. "Not only will San Felipe community members be employed and getting paychecks, but they'll be receiving training at the same time, the kind of training that can lead to receiving a journeyman's license on down the road."
    The difference this new program creates is that now these carpenters will be certified and will qualify to work on residential or commercial construction projects anywhere in the country, said Randy Tenorio, construction supervisor for the San Felipe Pueblo Housing Authority.
    "A journeyman card from the New Mexico Department of Labor is at least equal to a college degree for career advancement in the construction industry," he said.
   
The agreement
    The agreement between San Felipe's Housing Authority and the Central and Northern New Mexico Apprenticeship Association is unique because of the state of New Mexico's role, according to Charles Cambron, apprenticeship coordinator for the association. The association is registered with the New Mexico Department of Labor rather than the U.S. Department of Labor, making the San Felipe Pueblo carpentry program distinct among apprenticeship programs for Native Americans.
    The San Felipe program will pair apprentices in one-on-one training with experienced journeymen, according to Cambron. It's a combination designed to give inexperienced workers hands-on carpentry experience from the first day on the job.
    "That's the best way to learn about construction, under conditions of production," he said.
    Classroom training (144 hours a year) is another component of the apprenticeship program. Participants will combine theory with practical hands-on learning in the fields of metal framing, hanging and finishing drywall, and welding.
   
On location
    The apprenticeship program will take place at San Felipe Pueblo. New and rehabilitated homes on tribal lands will be the focus of the partnership in an expansion of a project that in February resulted in the public dedication of 13 homes ready for occupancy. In the past year and a half, the pueblo's Housing Authority has overseen the construction of 13 new and 19 rehabilitated homes, the first HUD-financed homes built for low-income families on the pueblo since 1972, according to Perez.
    Indeed, Perez said, he hopes to kick off the apprenticeship program by this summer after approximately a half-million dollars in the 2004 funding cycle in federal funds from the Native American Housing Self Determination Act (NAHSDA) is distributed.
    The San Felipe Housing Authority also is in line for a $825,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant from HUD, which will provide funding for the rehabilitation of an additional 19 homes.
    "The grant opens the door for numerous opportunities within the apprenticeship program," said Perez. "And not just opportunities for employment, but for housing on the pueblo as well."
    The best part of the program is that it gives residents a hand in improving their own community and the opportunity to earn decent wages, too, said Conroy Chino, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Labor. "Our hope is to use this as a model on other reservations that receive federal housing dollars," he said.
    Perez points to a strong tradition of carpentry at San Felipe Pueblo. He expects no difficulty in finding viable candidates for the new apprenticeship program.
    "San Felipe has a good reputation for excellent carpentry skills," he said. "Building houses, working with wood— it just seems to be a part of this pueblo."
    Trainees in the new program must be at least 18 years of age and would earn wages ranging from $8.18 to $20 per hour, according to Perez.
    Under standards established by the Central and Northern New Mexico Apprenticeship Association, a drywall applicator apprenticeship track (commercial carpentry) would last two years and four months; apprenticeships on a carpentry track for both commercial and residential building would run four years. Following training, apprentices will be certified as journeymen by the U.S. Department of Labor with a certification card recognized by all states.
   
At home
    At San Felipe, the proximity of the workplace and workers is expected to be a boon, said Cambron.
    "A lot of these young people from San Felipe have lacked transportation in the past to get to jobs or training," he noted. "This is an opportunity that lets them work close to home, within walking distance in many cases. It's an ideal way for young people to learn the skills working under real job conditions."
    "There's a dire need for work here," said Perez.
    Nonetheless, San Felipe members who live off the pueblo— in Albuquerque, for example— would also have the opportunity to receive apprenticeship training and employment at San Felipe or with other contractors under the umbrella of the Central and Northern New Mexico Apprenticeship Association, such as Commercial Enterprises, Inc.
    A trainee could continue to earn credit even if he chose to distribute his working time between both employers, picking up skills in both commercial and residential carpentry in the process, said Cambron.
    Perez said he hopes the apprenticeship program sparks other housing projects at San Felipe. While federal funding is funneled to low-income housing projects, the pueblo needs new and rehabilitated homes for all income levels.
    "Our goal is to provide housing opportunities for all members of San Felipe," said Perez.