LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – Representatives of Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) and Environmental Management (EM) Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) contractor Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) were on hand last week to congratulate Dominic Montaño and Milnor Branch, the most recent graduates of the N3B Nuclear Operator Apprenticeship Program (NOAP).
The apprenticeship program began in 2020 and is offered in conjunction with NNMC’s associate of applied science in nuclear operations degree program. N3B pays tuition and related education expenses for its apprentices who earn that degree.
During the two-year program, Montaño and Branch were full-time N3B employees. They received a competitive salary and full benefits during their on-the-job training at the EM-LA legacy cleanup project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and while they completed coursework at the NNMC Española campus and took classes online.
“The apprenticeship was challenging but my family was behind me,” said Montaño. “Milnor and I worked together, and we supported each other.”
Both students expressed appreciation for the instructors and N3B program supervisors who helped them succeed in their training.
This was the third graduating class of the NOAP. Like previous graduates, Montaño and Branch will join N3B as nuclear operators. They’ll monitor safety compliance, support daily operations and manage inspections in support of EM’s legacy environmental cleanup mission at LANL. Both have been assigned to the N3B Environmental Compliance Group on the remediation team, which focuses on cleanup of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“The apprenticeship program is vital to the success of our work for EM-LA, and we couldn’t offer it without the support of the leaders at Northern New Mexico College,” said Brad Smith, N3B president and general manager. “We’re working together to prepare New Mexico students for long-term, rewarding careers, which is a significant element of our community support mission.”
NNMC developed its associate degree program in partnership with N3B and incorporated the curriculum into the apprenticeship program.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with N3B,” said Ivan Lopez, NNMC provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The apprenticeship program is life-changing for these students. Now they have a wonderful career ahead of them.”
Montaño is a native of Tierra Amarilla, north of Los Alamos. After graduating from high school, he worked several jobs and had considered a career in wildland firefighting. Montaño learned about the NOAP while working in maintenance and groundskeeping at N3B.
“The apprenticeship was a turning point in my life and career,” said Montaño. “I plan to pursue an environment-related bachelor’s degree at some point, but in the meantime, I’ll try to move up the ladder at N3B — hopefully into a managerial or supervisory position.”
Branch grew up in Española and attended high school in nearby Pojoaque. He signed up for the apprenticeship program directly out of high school with the encouragement of a family member who works at N3B.
“This seemed like a really good way to obtain a specialized skill and an associate degree at the same time,” Branch said. “I definitely want to continue my education and earn my bachelor’s degree and remain in this region.”
Two additional students are midway through the NOAP at this time, and two more are scheduled to begin the program in October, according to Mark Russell, N3B’s director of training and apprentice programs.
The apprenticeship program and two N3B workforce development bootcamp programs will be featured at an Aug. 18 meeting in Los Alamos addressing EM’s workforce needs for cleanup. The meeting is hosted by the Energy Facility Contractors Group and the Energy Communities Alliance.
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