EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez got a behind the scenes tour of a local apprenticeship program at the United Associated of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 51 Friday in East Providence.

The apprenticeship training happening at the facility is part of the Real Jobs RI program, a workforce development initiative.

Real Jobs RI is funded largely by federal grants from the U.S. Department of Labor – and during the tour, the head of the department got to see how the money is being spent in the state.

“I had the privilege of going to Brown University, but an equally viable pathway is what we see here in this room,” Perez said Friday. “Apprenticeship is the other college, except without the debt. It’s kind of important to recognize that.”

Apprentices like Raymond Jatta and Angelica Conroy said they program changed their lives.

“I never, when I was in high school, did I think I would become a certified welder as great as I am today,” Conroy said.

“The more skilled labor that we have, the better our economy is going to be,” Jatta added.

Governor Gina Raimondo said the program is all about helping people land good jobs.

“That’s all anybody wants. ‘Just give me a chance, just give me a chance to get the skills I need so I can get a good job so I can work hard for my family,'” she said. “And that’s exactly what this program’s about.”

According to Perez, the program gives second chances to Rhode Island workers.

“It doesn’t matter where you were born,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if maybe you got off the rails sometime in your life because we’re a nation that believes in second chances. Opportunity can be here.”

Perez’s work as labor secretary isn’t the only reason has been making headlines lately – some top Democrats think he would make a good vice presidential running mate for Hillary Clinton.