Test Kitchen rolling out apprenticeship testing program

Reece Mayes works on a sample test for an electrical apprenticeship program at Elliott Test Kitchen, as founder Kumar Wickramasingha looks on Thursday morning. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – Six years ago Kumar Wickramasingha, known affectionately throughout Fort Madison as “Kumar” started a unique concept where culinary skills were honed as a backdrop to supplemental learning opportunities.

What has since 2015 been focused on ACT prep, STEM and other advanced learning, is now taking another turn as Kumar takes a look at helping those who are trying to pass apprenticeship math and engineering tests for electrical and trades workers.

On Thursday, Reece Mayes, a 2018 graduate of Central Lee High School and 2020 graduate of Southeastern Community College’s Industrial Maintenance program was at the Test Kitchen getting individual help in preparing for the test.

“The test is for Electricians Union IBEW Local 13 in Burlington. You have to take a test and if I pass this test, I move on to the interview process, and then if I pass the interview I think I’m pretty much in,” Mayes said.

Kumar said he’s had interest from several other students who are trying to pass the exam for apprenticeships.

The tests focus on basic physics and algebra, but Mayes said it does require some additional study and training. Mayes had basic math as part of the curriculum for the SCC degree, but he said he needs to brush up on the algebra, and the Test Kitchen is a good place to get that done.

Reece Mayes works on some algebra problems as part of a study program at Elliott Test Kitchen in downtown Fort Madison that is geared toward helping pass an apprenticeship test in April.

“I was trying to figure out how I would be able to study for this test. My mom said something about the Test Kitchen because my brother came here for ACT Prep. So we called and this was available,” he said.

“I feel like some people don’t study enough, or think it will be easy. For some people it is, but I’ve heard of some that have aced the math part of it, but failed during the interview process. So there’s that as well,” he said.

Kumar said this helps to provide opportunities for other students who don’t feel that a four-year college is the best choice for them.

“Not everyone wants to go to a 4-year school. We do the ACT prep here to help those who do want to go to college, but we also encourage kids who want to go to a trade school or apply for apprenticeships,” he said.

“We want to help anyway we can using all the resources we have at hand.”

When interested starting surfacing – Kumar said he’s had about five individual sessions so far – he obtained the IBEW testing handbook and purchased some sample tests for the students to work through in preparation.

Mayes said he’s hoping to take the exam in the next couple weeks.

Kumar said he is scheduling the trainings by appointment and can work around other work or school schedules to accommodate individual needs.

“We’re seeing an interest in this, so we want to help where the interest is.” he said.

The rest of the Test Kitchen programming is getting close to being back in full swing after the COVID pandemic shuttered most in-person learning and activities at the Test Kitchen.

Kumar also opened up the Test Kitchen STEM Lounge in the space adjacent to his current location at 807 Avenue G in downtown Fort Madison. The new space was created due to the demand for math, science and robotics programming.

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