Journeying Out: Santiago Canyon College Student and Southwest Carpenter Training Fund Apprentice Marc Cintron Student Success Profile

September 30, 2020

As a single father, Marc Cintron knew he would have to make sacrifices when he chose to become a carpenter. He knew entering the Southwest Carpenter’s Training Fund (SCTF) apprenticeship program wouldn’t be easy and he knew that finishing his associate’s degree at Santiago Canyon College would be a challenge. But he also knew his young sons were worth it.

“I’m a dad first,” says Cintron. “Thinking of them is what kept me going and motivated. I knew it was going to be hard work but I also knew if I wanted to be able to provide for them, this was a way that I could work while getting the training I needed to be more successful in the future.”

This month, Cintron will not only achieve his goal of becoming a journeyman carpenter but will also complete the final requirements for an associate’s degree in Carpentry-Acoustical Tile, Drywall/Lather, Drywall Finisher, and Plastering courtesy of Santiago Canyon College’s joint apprenticeship/associate’s degree program.

SCC’s unique apprenticeship programs not only lead to journeyworker status in the State of California but also satisfy requirements for Certificates of Achievement through Santiago Canyon College, as well as major requirements for an associate degree. This means, after completing their apprenticeship training, students are just a few general education classes away from also completing their associate’s degree.

Established in 1958, the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund is the educational and training arm of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, a 135-year-old union dedicated to supporting and representing the interests of nearly half a million current members.

“What’s great about these programs is that they give our apprentices an opportunity to get a college degree at almost no cost to them,” says Jason Geiger, a journeyman carpenter of over 30 years and coordinator of the SWCTF’s Ontario Training Center.

If that weren’t enough, regular pay raises and a benefits package that includes health care and a pension makes these programs an amazing opportunity for students who want to “earn while they learn.”

“Apprentices start at about $17 an hour, which is already $6 over minimum wage,” explains Geiger. “Then, after two classes, they get a $4 raise and it just continues like that as long as they stay in the program. 4 years later, if they’ve taken all of their classes, they graduate or ‘journey out’ at $43 an hour.”

“When I started doing the numbers, it was just a no brainer,” says Cintron who also moonlights as an ROP and pre-apprenticeship substitute teacher in the Pomona Unified School District when he has time. “I knew we’d be able to live on our own and not have to depend on anybody, and my sons would be able to have everything they ever needed. I knew I’d be able to provide. That was a big deal for me.”

In all, SCC offers 10 career-ready apprenticeship programs in a variety of trades. They are:

While these programs are all slightly different, they all put students on the fast track to earning and learning. But despite the obvious financial promise of these programs, Geiger is quick to point out that students have to be willing to work hard to succeed.

“We get guys all the time who, say, ‘Yeah, I want to be a carpenter and make $43 an hour,’” says Geiger. “Then they get out there and start doing the work and they’re like, ‘Whoa, this is hard work!’ ”

In addition to four years of onsite, on-the-job training, apprentices also attend “school” every three months. These 40 hour, week long training sessions teach important trade skills and give students the chance to practice what they’ve learned without the pressure of having to perform on a job site. Students need to complete 16 classes and 5200 hours of on-the-job training to achieve journeyworker status. After that, all that’s left is for students to complete their general education courses, and an associate’s degree is theirs.

While Geiger admits that an associate’s degree isn’t going help anyone drive nails, he is quick to remind students of the benefits of education.

“It’s all part of our toolbox, right?” reflect Geiger. “Tools aren’t always physical tools. Tools can be knowledge. And the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more employable you are. Especially when it comes time for a promotion, or if you want to move up to superintendent or project manager. The degree gives you a leg up.”

And a leg up on a well-paying and secure career is exactly what Cintron got. These days, Cintron is happy to have a supportive team to help him take care of his kids and even happier to be getting married by year’s end. Still, there were times when he wasn’t sure if he was on the right path.

“There were times where I felt like I was failing my sons,” says Cintron. “I’d come home at like 5 o’clock and we’d eat dinner and be in bed by eight and up at 4 the next morning to do it all over again. We hardly saw each other except for on the weekends. It was hard. I realized it wasn’t just me that was sacrificing. It was them, too.”

For Geiger, it’s seeing students like Cintron “journey out” and achieve their goals that makes his job especially fulfilling.

“We’re a family here,” says Geiger. “We call each other brothers and sisters. And the best thing is seeing one of our brothers or sisters work so hard and then all of a sudden they’re posting pictures of their new truck on Facebook, or telling us they just bought a house. I always tell students, ‘Your career doesn’t end with you being a carpenter. That’s just where it begins.’”

“We partner with a women’s prison in Chino,” continues Geiger. “And we just had a woman who journeyed out a few months ago after 11 years in prison. Now, she’s supporting her children on her own. What a great success story. Changing people’s lives for the better—those are our biggest accomplishments.”

Cintron, who is already at work on a bachelor’s degree from California Baptist University in Riverside, is a case in point.

“Everything I accomplish, it all goes in the toolbox,” says Cintron. “Maybe I use it, maybe I don’t, but it’s always there for me and my kids.”

Click on the following links to learn more about Santiago Canyon College’s many apprenticeship programs here, the Southwest Carpenter’s Training Fund, or Orange County’s many affordable and award-winning community college career education programs.