News & Updates

News & Updates

Retiring Instructor Leaves Behind a Legacy of Excellence

Isaac Camarena passes on his
knowledge of the sheet metal trade to then-student Raquel Pizana.

Many Fresno-area students learning about building and construction trades know the friendly face of Isaac Camarena.

For more than two decades, this Madera native was the apprenticeship coordinator for the Fresno Sheet Metal Workers. He spent many years as an instructor for ValleyBuild and the training programs before it.

On his birthday this past February, Camarena officially retired although he will continue to teach part-time. He estimates that he’s taught hundreds of students over his decade-long career with ValleyBuild and its forerunners.

“Isaac was such an important part of the ValleyBuild family,” said Ashley Matthews, senior project coordinator with the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, the fiscal agent for the state-funded ValleyBuild program.

“If we ever had a problem or couldn’t figure something out, ‘Let’s ask Isaac!’ were the first words out of our mouths,” she said. “He has affected the lives of so many of our students, now sheet metal workers, by guiding and pushing them to their full potential.”

Through the training programs, Camarena helped give each student the information they needed to make a choice about their future work and career. “I really enjoyed it and I think I made some difference,” he said.

Many students come into ValleyBuild and other programs without much background in the trades, pay and benefits, he said. It’s sometimes difficult to convey the advantages, growth opportunities and career stability without a face-to-face conversation.

“Seeing it on paper, it sounds too good to be true,” Camarena said.

Through the ValleyBuild MC3 (Multi-Craft Core Curriculum) Apprenticeship Readiness training program, students learn about a variety of trades and the basic skills required. Students also earn important certifications, such as OSHA-10, and complete hands-on projects to get a feel for different trades.

That instruction is critical, Camarena said, because “very few had the ability to work with their hands, to work with tools.”

He always asked students to create a toolbox in class. That project gave them a taste of the sheet metal trade and him an opportunity to assess a student’s skill and ability. Some students, like Raquel Pizana, demonstrated both an aptitude and interest in the trade.

“It’s not until they actually try it that they know it’s something they like,” Camarena said. The true test is working in the field, because a strong work ethic is just as important as having the skill for the trade.

Camarena said he enjoyed his time as coordinator, classroom instructor and recruiter for sheet metal. He’s happy to have helped students learn about the building trades and make informed decisions about their future.

ValleyBuild is “a really great program, especially for those students who are under-paid or under-employed,” Camarena said.

He will be missed in the classroom, Matthews said.

“Every day, he had a pot of coffee and a wealth of knowledge ready to share,” she recalled. “We hope to pull him back from retirement for a class or two in the future, but until then, thank you for your dedication, Isaac. It’s been an honor.”