Princeton University’s newest apprentice carpenter is getting quite an education

December 3rd, 2015

Zachary Scrape graduated from Somerset County Vocational-Technical School in June 2105 and landed a highly-coveted spot at Princeton University.

He is not a student at the University, but is learning plenty nonetheless. Thanks to a new pilot program designed to attract talented young technical trade workers to Princeton’s Facilities Operations Department, he has launched his career as an apprentice in the University’s carpentry shop.

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Zack (right) working in the Princeton University carpenter shop with carpenter Dan Reffner (Photo courtesy of Chris Lillja/Princeton University Facilities Organization)

“I’ve always liked to build things and work with my hands, and I started working for a construction company while I was in high school,” Zack said.

“I never thought I’d get to work in an amazing place like this, though. One day you could be putting a handle on a cabinet door, and the next day you could be doing renovations on an historic building,” the Bridgewater resident said.

Princeton’s Director of Grounds and Building Maintenance Joseph Morgan, who manages the University’s 225-person facilities department, led the development of the pilot apprenticeship program.

“Princeton is a wonderful place to work,” Morgan said. “It’s like a small city, with several thousand employees, about 8,000 undergrad and graduate students and 200 buildings, several of them on the National Register of Historic Places. The expectations throughout the University workforce are high, but the salaries are more than market competitive and the benefits are great.

“But it’s also a caring and supportive community that values creative thinking, collaboration, inclusion, and teamwork among all of its employees throughout its departments, which makes Princeton so special.  Talented people in all fields can have long and successful careers here,” Morgan said.

“We knew that New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools educate their students with these same workplace values in mind, so we wanted to broaden the pipeline of apprentice applicants in our facilities shops by tapping into that network,” he said.

Morgan and his team, along with representatives from the Facilities Vice President’s Office and Human Resources, developed the pilot apprenticeship agreement for the carpentry position and invited county vocational-technical schools within commuting distance of the University to suggest candidates.

“We were looking for someone who had great future potential,” said James Simpson, the University’s Manager of Building Trades, who oversees the carpentry shop. “The application process is rigorous,” he said. “It includes interviews involving teams of University employees, followed by a casual employment period to demonstrate the candidate’s skills and aptitude.”

Zack was the Somerset County Vocational-Technical Schools 2015 valedictorian, a member of the National Honor Society and the National Technical Honor Society, and a two-time Bronze Medalist in the Skills USA carpentry competition.

“It was clear that he was ready to hit the ground running,” Simpson said.

As a finalist applicant, Zack was employed at Princeton as a casual hourly employee in July and August and based on his outstanding performance during this period, was offered the apprenticeship position in September.

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Zack (center) with Princeton University  carpenter shop assistant supervisors Sterling “Tate” Tantum and James “Jim” Elberson  (Photo courtesy of Chris Lillja/Princeton University Facilities Organization)

For the next four years, he will work at Princeton during the day and take carpentry and other apprentice classes at Mercer County Technical School in the evening.  Zack will receive regular wage increases during his apprenticeship, and when he completes the program, he will be recognized as a journeyman carpenter.

“A few days ago, I walked into Nassau Hall, the most iconic building on the Princeton campus, built in 1756 and once the meeting place for the United States Congress,” Simpson said. “It’s considered so valuable that some rooms are closed to the public for preservation reasons.  And there’s Zack, 18 years old and already a craftsman, renovating the historic benches that line the wall.

“He is a joy to work with and Princeton is proud to have him,” Simpson said.

As an outcome to the successful pilot apprentice program, Princeton is once again planning to collaborate with regional county vocational-technical schools with an electrical apprenticeship opportunity.  The recruitment process for this position will begin in January of 2016.

Somerset County Vocational-Technical Schools Superintendent Dr. Chrys Harttraft said the apprentice partnership with Princeton and partnerships with other businesses “enhance the learning process at our schools. When high school students understand the real-world relevance of what they are being taught, they achieve at higher levels both technically and academically.

“Zack’s story is an inspiration to other students because it demonstrates the possibilities and opportunities that can be available to people with a strong career and technical training background,” Dr. Harttraft said.

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