Apprentices mark milestone on journey to journeyman

Posted: December 15, 2016 - 9:17am

With 34 years as a security police officer with the Y‑12 Protective Force, Rusty Chambers, 59, could have retired. Instead, he began a four‑year apprenticeship for a new Y‑12 vocation as a journeyman machinist.

“It’s a fulfillment of what I’ve always wanted to do, since I was 22,” Chambers said, adding the situation was never quite right before for him to enroll in an apprentice program.

The four-year journeyman machinist apprentice program is a partnership between Consolidated Nuclear Security and the Atomic Trades Labor Council, with classwork provided by Pellissippi State Technical Community College.

Chambers and seven other Y‑12 employees completed the classroom/team‑project portion of the training Oct. 21 with an event at Norris Dam State Park. Representatives from Y‑12, ATLC, and Pellissippi gathered to congratulate them as they dedicated an information kiosk they built in a cabin area (the previous, dilapidated kiosk was destroyed by a falling tree). The group also presented a utility trailer built for the Marble Springs State Historical Site.

In addition to Chambers, the other apprentices are: Charles Clinton, Ashley Dawson, Billy Farr, Randy Fields, Russell Fielden, Doug Hamby, and Mike Trexler.

After attending three years of year‑round classes on Fridays and evenings, the apprentices still have 10 months of on‑the‑job training before they are certified as journeymen. That final leg may seem like a breeze because the classroom portion was on top of their 40‑hour jobs at Y‑12.

Pellissippi instructor Terry Sisk came out of retirement to teach the classes. He said the project goals included budgeting, planning, designing, and building — all while working as a team. “You have 10 more months’ training, but you finally have your Fridays back,” Sisk joked with his students. “It’s been quite an experience for them — and me.”

Susan Baker, Y‑12’s director of Fabrication, praised the apprentices’ caliber. “You are already making contributions to the work we do at Y‑12, and I’m looking forward to hiring you as journeymen,” Baker said.

Beth Green of Y‑12 Infrastructure managed the apprenticeship project and found funding for project materials. “It’s a small price to pay to have employees who know how to work together as part of a team,” Green said.

One of the future “journeymen” is a woman. Ashley Dawson’s bachelor’s degree is in human resources, and after six years in the U.S. Air Force, she worked in Y‑12’s Human Resources department before hearing about the apprentice program. She went from working with nearly all women to all men, something she kiddingly called an “adjustment.”

“I’m very hands on. I wanted to learn a craft, a skill,” Dawson said. “I wanted a change.”

As to why Chambers didn’t want to retire when he could have: “I don’t know that I ever want to quit working,” he said. “I like to have an objective when I wake up every day.”