Carpentry instructor Eric Torset speaks with a group of prospective students from TERO Vocational Training Center in Tulalip during the grand opening of the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Carpentry instructor Eric Torset speaks with a group of prospective students from TERO Vocational Training Center in Tulalip during the grand opening of the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Building a workforce: Northwest Carpenters expand training center

About 160 Snohomish County tradespeople take the apprentice classes in Burlington center. There’s ample room to grow.

BURLINGTON — From a second-story picture window overlooking 16 miniature construction sites, Greg Brady surveyed the shop floor of the state’s newest training center for carpenters.

The frame of a small tilt-up wall sat just under the window, nearly ready to be filled with concrete and lifted into place. Diagonally across the room, concrete girders and lumber outlined the structure of a roughly 18-foot bridge.

Each site represents a station where apprentices can learn the trade and hone their craft, explained Brady, the program coordinator for the Northwest Carpenters Insitute’s Burlington training center. The new building provides three times more shop space than the 1980s-era facility it replaced.

It will serve as a beacon for future carpenters, a boon for diversity in the industry and a supplier of future talent to the workforce, Brady said.

“Having this new, state-of-the-art building truly showcases who we are and what we represent for quality and education,” he said. “Instead of having people on top of each other … everyone is able to get their hands on something.”

The Burlington center is one of six of its kind in the state and the most recent to receive an upgrade. NCWI purchased and renovated the building for about $15.5 million. The costs were covered by the “contractors in training trust fund,” a pool of money collected from union membership dues, employer contributions and grants, Brady said.

Melissa Hammons and Shephard Little, members of the TERO Vocational Training Center in Tulalip, take a closer look at some of the new machines and tools available at the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building during a grand opening event on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Melissa Hammons and Shephard Little, members of the TERO Vocational Training Center in Tulalip, take a closer look at some of the new machines and tools available at the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building during a grand opening event on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

More than half of the 50,000-square-foot building is reserved for the shop, where apprentices practice their building skills. The rest has classrooms, a lunchroom, and offices for educators and union members.

Almost 300 apprentices are currently enrolled in the training program, including about 160 from Snohomish County. The building also serves tradespeople from Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.

Brady said the space has capacity to double the number of workers it trains. That will open up opportunities for people who might not have envisioned a future for themselves in the carpentry field, said Marianna Hyke, the NCWI pre-apprenticeship coordinator. She said she has seen people from all walks of life become successful carpenters. Of the 176 pre-apprentices she has worked with since 2018, about 27% were women, 71% were people of color and 9% were veterans. Some other carpenters-in-training were formerly incarcerated or homeless, she said.

“I see the diverse background that get to come here and build a skillset and career they didn’t think was an option,” Hyke said.

Melinda Nichols, the first pre-apprenticed carpenter ever in the state of Washington, is recognized by a large audience during the grand opening of the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Melinda Nichols, the first pre-apprenticed carpenter ever in the state of Washington, is recognized by a large audience during the grand opening of the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new building on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

On Thursday, Melinda Nichols sat among the crowd at the grand opening for the training center. Nichols was the first female pre-apprenticed carpenter in the state of Washington. She grew up in Sedro-Woolley and “never saw another woman” in the field when she started training in 1972.

“I can’t tell you how touching it is to have a facility like this in Burlington,” Nichols said.

Brady, the program coordinator, said the building is the “ultimate marketing device” to inspire more people to pursue a path that offers living wages and great benefits. In this region, a first period apprentice, or someone who just started training and has only basic building skills, makes a starting wage of $30 an hour, Brady said.

He spent years “spinning my wheels” trying to start a foundation for his future, he recounted. When he started in carpentry and scaffolding about 20 years ago, “I was able to start making all my goals and dreams come true,” Brady said.

A pair of group tours make their way around the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new center during the building’s grand opening on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A pair of group tours make their way around the Northwest Carpenters Institute’s new center during the building’s grand opening on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Paul Galovin, a Marysville-based representative with Northwest Carpenters Union, shared a similar story. As a young adult, he lacked a support network and opportunity, he said. He spent time at Cocoon House in Everett, a non-profit that provides housing for homeless and at-risk youth.

Now, after 11 years as a carpenter specializing in interior finish, concrete and interior systems, Galovin is active in politics, mentorships and community. He serves as president of the Marysville School Board.

“I’ve always counted carpentry as something that was a craft to be respected, in the fact that you can do great good in the world through the work and your hands,” he said. “… I want to create a bigger talent pool to provide more good to the world around me.”

People gather outside of the new Northwest Carpenters Institute building prior to a grand opening celebration on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People gather outside of the new Northwest Carpenters Institute building prior to a grand opening celebration on Thursday, in Burlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

On Thursday, during the building’s land acknowledgement and dedication ceremony, Tlingit flautist George Montero emphasized that the new training center will help build “the leadership of tomorrow.” Montero is a retired carpenter and member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

“Our goals are for the future, to assist and to train a workforce for Washington state,” Montero said. “… We are providing training for the hopes of a better tomorrow.”

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

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