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The Apprentice
They may not lead to Trump Tower, but Hopkins Hospital's plumbing and electrical apprenticeships do pave the way to success


Ryan Eggleston started as a dietitian assistant. Now he’s a licensed plumber.
Ryan Eggleston started working for Hopkins Hospital back in 1991 as a dietitian assistant. His hourly rate was about $5.65 per hour. Over the years, with hard work, his employment status—as well as his pay—rose gradually, but it wasn’t until he began working as a plumbing apprentice that his vision of the future made a radical shift: “Now I can see myself coming to work in a suit and tie some day,” says the 31-year-old Baltimore native.

Eggleston received his journeyman plumber’s license in March, the culmination of a four-year apprentice program through the Department of Facilities Engineering. He is one of three plumbers to complete the apprenticeship this spring. Four electrical apprentices also are in the program. “Training apprentices is the best way to groom excellent employees from within,” says Rich Hunter, mechanical services manager. “They learn on the job, and after the program, they not only have the expertise, but they are also completely familiar with the facility.”

The current incarnation of the apprentice program (Hopkins had discontinued a similar program in the 1980s due to employee attrition) began four years ago, and Eggleston was one of the first to be tapped as a candidate. At the time, he was working in the Children’s Center as a trash technician in Environmental Services, handling biomedical wastes and “keeping things under control,” when a friend told him about the program.

Plumbing apprentices work during the days and attend classes two evenings a week. They must meet the requirements of the journeyman’s plumbing and gas licenses. They must also qualify to work with medical gases, which requires a special license and additional training. The schedule was grueling, Eggleston recalls. “It was a big deal to be away from home that much.” (He and his wife, Tameka, a state corrections officer, are raising four boys, and Eggleston also has a 17-year-old daughter who lives with her mother.)

The apprentices started at $10.48 per hour and were up to $14.60 by the time they finished this spring. After receiving their licenses, their pay rose to close to $19 per hour.

Although he might make more if he worked independently or with a contractor, Eggleston appreciates the security of Hopkins. “In another job, I’d get laid off when work slows down,” he points out.

And there wouldn’t be the same opportunities for advancement. Hopkins, he says, will pay for continuing education if he decides to pursue more schooling. The plumbing apprenticeship left him with 30 credits toward an associate degree.

Eggleston also has been able to take advantage of Hopkins’ Live Near Your Workplace program, receiving a $3,000 grant toward closing costs when he purchased a rehabbed home four blocks from the hospital.

But the apprenticeship has meant more than benefits and a pay raise. For Eggleston, it has revealed a strength that he hadn’t realized he possessed: “I know that I can do what I set my mind to.”

Outside of work, Eggleston takes great pride in his truck: a GM Yukon XL. But on the job, he is proud to be involved in a state-of-the-art water treatment project currently under way in a handful of buildings in the medical complex. The chlorine dioxide system will purify water for immune-compromised patients. “Ryan was chosen for the job because he takes pride in his work,” says Hunter. “He understands the importance of his job to the big picture. He’s not one of these guys who drops his wrenches at 3:30 and runs.”

Eggleston, who has been at Hopkins for nearly 14 years, expects to put in a total of at least 20. The next step may be to a government job where he could also accumulate retirement benefits—unless, of course, he works his way into a suit and tie at Hopkins.

Martha Thomas

 

 

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