Bucks County Community College on Monday became the first college in Pennsylvania and one of only a few in the nation to coordinate an apprenticeship program under the U.S. Department of Labor.
While the school has offered a three-year chef training program for 35 years, students had to find their own apprenticeships. Now the school will place them into “jobs,” which generally come with a paycheck, according to Chef Earl Arrowood, who oversees the training program.
That makes Robert Alvarez happy.
Alvarez, 20, a 2014 Neshaminy High School graduate, was among dozens of BCCC students, alumni and staff who watched Monday afternoon as college officials and labor department representatives inked the deal.
“There will be less paperwork and more time for hands-on experiences,” said Alvarez, who works at Chandler Hall in Newtown Township while attending his second year of the program.
BCCC is one of more than 200 sites across the country staging open houses or other events during the first National Apprenticeship Week to tout the benefits of coordinating an apprenticeship program, labor officials said.
Under the agreement, BCCC will use a streamlined computer process provided by the labor department to enter data about the student’s progress and be able to see where openings are available at area businesses to place an apprentice, Arrowood said.
“This is totally cool and awesome,” the chef said to the crowd gathered in what was once the spacious dining room for the affluent Tyler family and is now part of Tyler Hall on the BCCC Newtown Township campus.
“(Students) don’t have to go looking for sponsors. We do food. That is what we do,” Arrowood said.
The Bucks apprenticeship, at any one time, has between 40 and 65 students enrolled, the chef said. He hopes the sponsorship will be a good way to recruit more students.
“This makes the apprenticeship sound more enticing,” said Colin Bloome, 18, a 2015 Pennridge High School graduate and first-year student in the program.
During the program, the students work for 6,000 hours of supervised and documented on-the-job training while taking courses to support and enhance their work experiences, according to BCCC officials. They earn an associate of arts degree, journey-person cook or pastry-good certification from the labor department and could qualify for cook/pastry cook certification from the American Culinary Federation.
Those who complete the apprenticeship program can begin their chef careers with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $60,000, BCCC officials said.
Nick Poccia, a certified executive chef, said he has seen firsthand the benefits of the BCCC apprentice program. Poccia is the executive chef at Spring Mill Country Club in Northampton, which has sponsored apprenticeships of many BCCC students through the years, he said.
The apprentices are “dedicated staff members” and good team players who want to learn from the chefs at the club, he said.
George Westfall, a 1996 graduate of the BCCC apprentice program, said the onsite experiences made him realize the difference between just making food and how to succeed as a chef.
The college’s sponsorship of the apprenticeship program “will provide future generations of students with even more opportunities” than the apprentices before them, said Westfall, who serves as the food and beverage director at the Newtown Athletic Club.