And Nobody Does It Like North America’s Building Trades Unions

By Sean McGarvey, President of North America’s Building Trades Unions

The Huffington Post, November 2, 2015 — As our nation celebrates “National Apprenticeship Week,” it is worth noting that for over 100 years North America’s Building Trades Unions and its signatory contractors have funded and operated a skilled craft apprenticeship system that is the envy of the world. Our apprenticeship and apprenticeship-readiness programs are a tried and true job-training strategy that offer a reliable path to the middle class without saddling participants with debt.

Apprenticeship and workplace-based training provides a better learning environment and far larger earnings gains than one or two years in a community college. It is an “earn while you learn” system that offers young people the chance to learn from the best trained construction workers in North America. When individuals complete our programs, they obtain a portable, nationally recognized credential that they can take anywhere in the country, one that comes with good pay and benefits that will support them and their families.

An additional important feature is that most apprenticeship programs in the building and construction trades have been assessed for college credit, which participants can apply toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

To be sure, a skilled craft union apprenticeship is the “other four-year degree.”

And I would wager that most people in America, including and especially lawmakers at all levels of government, would be stunned to learn that:

• Nearly two-thirds of all registered apprentices in the U.S. are trained in the construction industry

• Among construction apprentices, roughly 75 percent are trained in the unionized construction sector – known as the joint apprentice training committee (JATC) system.

• Every year, North America’s Building Trades Unions and our signatory contractors direct over $1 billion in private investments towards this JATC system.

• When wages and benefits that are paid to apprentices are factored in, that annual investment exceeds $11 billion.

• Our unions and contractors operate more than 1,600 training centers in the United States

• If the Building Trades training system, which includes both apprentice-level and journeyman-level training, was a degree granting college or university, it would be the largest degree granting college or university in the United States — over 5 times larger than Arizona State University.

• If we were a public university system, we would be the third largest public university system in the United State — almost twice as large as the University of Texas system.

• And if we were a K-12 school district, we would be the fourth largest school district in the US, only behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The only comparable skills-based training in existence today that has the track record of success enjoyed by the union construction industry’s skilled craft apprenticeship infrastructure is that which is provided by America’s armed forces.

No other sector of the North American construction industry operates such a comprehensive and successful training approach; and no other industry in North America has a comparable system in place.

Apprentices offer contractors and construction end users a cost effective way to round out their construction workforce. Because of the high quality of our apprenticeship curriculum and our apprenticeship programs, contractors and end users don’t have to sacrifice efficiency or excellence when they put union apprentices to work on their projects.

Apprenticeship training is a remarkably successful model when supported broadly by employers, and we feel it should be available to more American construction workers.

That is why today our unions are making concerted efforts to work with state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations like the Urban League, YouthBuild and Job Corps, to open the doors of opportunity through apprenticeship readiness programs that target historically underserved populations — primarily, communities of color, women and military veterans.

Our “Helmets to Hardhats” program has become a model for helping military veterans transition back into civilian life with a structured path that will ensure a stable and secure life in the middle class.

In 2014, the program successfully placed roughly 1,600 veterans in skilled craft apprenticeship programs.

Since its inception in 2003, the program has helped place over 20,000 veterans in apprenticeship programs.

Skilled craft apprenticeship programs offer the necessary capacities, resources and flexibility needed to help Americans from all walks of life achieve and retain construction careers in the great American middle class, while simultaneously assisting local construction employers obtain the skilled workforce they need to help drive growth in their local labor markets.