Groups work to prepare residents for high-speed rail jobs

Groups work to prepare residents for high-speed rail jobs
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The task of constructing California’s largest infrastructure project will require a lot of manpower. Supporters of the high-speed rail project are questioning whether or not Valley residents will have an opportunity to fill any of the positions.

High-speed rail Chairman Dan Richard said he believes the construction could spawn growth in businesses, creating new jobs far beyond the train tracks.

“We have an opportunity with high-speed rail to create attractive downtown centers where people want to go,” Richards said.

The state's public works board recently approved contract framework to start acquiring nearly 500 parcels along the northern part of the Valley and 1,100 more down the road.

Still, a lot needs to be done before California riders can expect to go anywhere. There are miles the route must be cleared of trees and bushes, track that have to be installed, and, of course, there needs to be somewhere for riders to board.

In Kern County, several apprenticeship programs are working to ensure Valley workers have the skill sets needed to apply for the upcoming positions.

“On the high-speed rail, almost every craft is going to have some sort of work on that,” said Vern Shaffer, head of Green Builder’s apprenticeship program.

Shaffer’s three-week courses allow students a brief introduction to several building trades. Once a student picks a focus, they are filtered into a five-year sheet metal apprenticeship program that places students in full-time jobs. In addition to the paid employment, students also continue attending classes once every two weeks.

“The people we turn out are craftsman, not electrical workers. There is a difference,” said Jerry Melson, head of the Electrical Apprenticeship program.

Melson is tasked with training the next generation of electricians. Their five-year program also places students in full-time jobs while continuing to educate workers on everything from the basic electric circuits to automation and the latest in technology like led lights.

Instructors in both programs said the starting pay is around $15 to $16 dollars an hour. Those looking to apply must do it in person. You must be 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED. The electrician apprenticeship program also requires students to pass algebra with C or better grade.