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SPU Apprentices Graduate and Become Essential Workers

It was a moment of pride – and one that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) hopes will last a lifetime.

Group photo of the 12 graduating SPU apprentices.

More than 100 people gathered on Friday, May 19 to celebrate the diverse group of 12 people in SPU’s first graduating water pipe worker apprenticeship class since 2015. The graduates will continue to work at SPU – but now as a skilled journeyman or journeywoman – with nearly 1,400 Utility employees and help serve 1.5 million people every day in the Seattle area with safe, clean, and reliable drinking water.

The milestone celebration – complete with yellow SPU hardhats for the Water Pipe Worker Apprenticeship Class of 2020-2023 – included families, friends, and Utility colleagues. There were congratulations, reflections, and plenty of smiles at The Museum of Flight event.

SPU General Manager and CEO Andrew Lee speaks at a podium, surrounded by blue graduation balloons and yellow SPU hardhats.

SPU General Manager and CEO Andrew Lee reminded the audience that people need water every three days to survive—at the least—and that critical public workers don’t shy away from emergencies. Instead, they arrive with resourcefulness, intelligence, and physical strength to help the public at any hour of the day.

“Our work often goes unnoticed,” Lee said. “Our city couldn’t be what it is without you. All of you are essential.”

Some smiling graduates admire a yellow hardhat.

Wylie Harper, SPU Division Director of Water Operations and Systems Maintenance, encouraged the graduates to pursue their work with integrity, offer support when needed, and keep their minds open to get projects completed.

“You are part of a legacy,” Harper said. “It’s the learning that comes out of this that’s important. It’s the people behind this that makes it work.”

Todd Snider, SPU Apprenticeship Program Manager, talked about what it means to go from apprentice to joining a community of skilled tradespeople: “Your achievement is now a public record. Your journey card is accessible to any employer, any union hall, or any education institution for the rest of your careers.”

Group portrait of the 12 graduates of the SPU Apprenticeship Program smiling and wearing candy leis.

The graduates celebrated the moment and their accomplishments since they started their apprenticeships in October 2020. The graduating class includes: Gregory M. Allen, Phillip J. Bennett, Marcus C. Blanks, Cliserio Issac Bonilla, William Michael Burkhart, Benito Guerrero Jr., Isimeeli S. Hikila, Hugh Nathanial Kiehn, Va’atausili T. Ma’o, Julian J. Monroy-Trueblood, Kirsten R. Stamnes, and Keith L. Suka-Siose.

For Julian J. Monroy-Trueblood, a 22-year-old Seattle resident who works on a water taps crew, the program taught him about working hard to get things done. “Now, I try to be more like the senior workers. They’re good at their jobs,” said Monroy-Trueblood, who helps install new water service lines in buildings.

As photos of SPU workers in action were broadcast on screens, Seattle resident Michael Burkhart thought about his past job at a property management office and switching to SPU. “I can now say I can provide safe drinking water to Seattlites. It’s gratifying. I’m providing something essential,” the 34-year-old said.

Snider said the Class of 2020-2023 faced much. They started in the winter during the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked outside through the public health crisis and endured smokey conditions from regional forest fires. “I hope you are proud of yourselves. I am proud of you,” he said. “Damn proud.”

Snider thanked numerous SPU colleagues and teams that helped this class graduate and emphasized that frontline staff are “the indispensable individuals who really make this program work and ensure its success.”

“I’ve seen these opportunities change people’s lives,” Snider said. “For SPU, this program allows for more consistency in how we do our jobs.”

Bruce Bentley, SPU Water Apprenticeship Advisor, offered this observation about the importance of people working at the Utility, particularly in providing safe, clean, and reliable water to the public: “AI can’t take anything away from the trades.”

For Kirsten Stamnes, a 35-year-old graduate, the realization that the apprenticeship would be a good fit occurred after she attended a Women in Trades event a few years ago.

There was a mock pipe system there for people to study and repair – which she did. Since she was a child, she has enjoyed working with her hands.

“I said, ‘Yup, this is what I want to do,’” the Federal Way resident said. “Now, I feel fulfilled.”