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Diversifying Our Workforce by Creating Opportunity

Blog Post
The Water Bureau's Apprentice Program sets its candidates up for success.

Organizations grow and adapt best when they’re able to expand their talent pool. Maintenance and Construction staff have hired a more diverse workforce, both in terms of demographics and lived experience, through an important entry point for potential employees: The Apprentice Program. “This can be especially beneficial for folks who may not have grown up tinkering in the garage to acquire skills needed for a career in the trades,” said Danielle Marcial, a graduate of the Utility Worker Apprenticeship, who later was promoted to Timekeeping Specialist.

Female construction worker stands by work site on city street.

The program has existed since the 1990s, with apprenticeships for Water Utility Workers and Water Operations Mechanics who serve as the crew leaders in the field. Marcial spent 4,000 hours completing the Utility Worker Apprentice program, which provided her the jumping off point to earn other professional credentials. “It provides a great opportunity for people to learn and earn a livable wage, free of college debt. The credentials I’ve earned, along with the up-close understanding of how our distribution system works will follow me throughout my career with the Bureau,” Marcial said.

Marcial’s training started in the classroom, then transitioned to the field as she tested how her newlyacquired knowledge translated to a potential job site. Maintenance and Construction Director Ty Kovatch credits the bureau’s prioritization of diversity and the empowerment of hiring managers to select the best people who are then cultivated through the apprenticeship programs. “Our job is to get results from the system, rather than wait for systems to spit out results we want,” Kovatch said.

There are typically about two dozen people going through the program. While its focus is training people for jobs within Maintenance and Construction, Kovatch says many of the program graduates have been able to transition to jobs throughout the bureau. “It’s a great foundation, it’s how we add diversity to places in the bureau that haven’t been able to make those improvements in diverse hiring,” Kovatch said. “I think we can be really successful doing that training and developing our own strength rather than hoping for the right people in recruitment after recruitment.”

Water Operations Mechanic Jelani Johnson earned his title after completing both the 4,000 hour Utility Worker apprenticeship, and then the 6,000 hour Water Operations Mechanic apprenticeship. He says the mix of time in the classroom and field helped him quickly soak up the knowledge and skills he needed. “Personally, it has taught me how to learn a wide array of tasks and to be able to apply them daily,” Johnson said. “Without this apprenticeship I think I would have been much more of a struggle to get the place I am now, as quickly as I did.”

You can learn more about our Apprentice Program by visiting https://www.portlandoregon.gov/water/67295