James Harmer for years tried to break out of his career on the “bottom rung” at the state corrections department by volunteering to help his colleagues with their computer problems.
He tried to make a case that he was ready for a new job, but his enthusiasm was never enough for him to land an assignment as an information technology specialist at the department.
Now, he’s getting paid to learn the job he wants through a first-of-its-kind public sector apprenticeship program that’s sponsored by his union. When he finishes, he’ll have the experience to round out his résumé.
“I’m a computer person. I’ve always been able to troubleshoot, but making the next step to where I can actually apply those skills has been more of a challenge,” he said. “This is a fantastic opportunity. I’m really grateful.”
Harmer of Sacramento is among the first to take advantage of new programs developed by Service Employees International Union Local 1000 that aim to help state workers earn promotions or make career changes.
So far, SEIU 1000 has leveraged a pair of state workforce training grants to cultivate partnerships that will benefit prison nurses and state employees such as Harmer who want a fresh start in information technology. The union is working on a third apprenticeship for cybersecurity professionals.
Both career tracks steer candidates to hard-to-fill jobs in civil service. About 19 percent of the state government’s information technology positions are vacant, according to SEIU 1000, and the corrections department is continually recruiting health care workers.
“This is an opportunity to grow our own,” said Margarita Maldonado, an SEIU 1000 vice president. “All of the programs we have are existing employees moving into higher paying jobs or moving into the next step of their careers.”
The apprenticeships link current state workers with courses at community colleges and on-the-job training within state offices. The apprentices retain their full-time wages, but are allowed time for coursework and special training.
One program helps licensed vocational nurses at three state prisons earn credentials as registered nurses through Delta College in Tracy. When they graduate, they’ll be ready to take on more responsibility as registered nurses in California prisons. It’s a substantial jump in pay, too, with registered nurses earning about $40,000 a year more than vocational nurses.
“That’s life-changing for them, not only for more money, but to learn something new,” Maldonado said.
The other program allows state workers to gain training for information technology careers through Sacramento City College. The union gives them additional training on Fridays at its midtown headquarters, and it assigns a “success coordinator” to help the apprentices stay on top of their work.
The state Labor Department grants provided $1 million for SEIU 1000 to help 50 nurses advance in their careers, and $4 million to help up to 180 state workers begin careers in information technology. The union is accepting applications now for its next batch of information technology apprentices.