Apprenticeship programs help build New York’s middle class

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The following article was originally published in Crain’s New York Business. We’ve adapted this story with our own link references.

By Gary LaBarbera and Nicole Bertrán

Each year we recognize the value and significance of American apprenticeship programs during National Apprenticeship Week. As we demonstrate our appreciation this year for the programs, leaders, sponsors and participants that make these vital apprenticeship programs possible, we find ourselves at a historic juncture: Nearly 1 million New Yorkers are out of work.

It is clear that the city needs a jobs plan. It will take the ingenuity and creativity of all New Yorkers to develop a plan that puts New York back to work. Developing such a plan will require us to recognize the tried-and-true measures that have always worked.

In the union building trades, there is no more effective way to create skilled, middle-class careers than through union apprenticeship, and the use of direct-entry pre-apprentice programs is the most effective way to recruit and prepare future apprentices. For years these pre-apprentice programs have provided access for entry-level workers to receive job and safety training on the worksite and in the classroom that apprentice programs offer.

In the city we have created union construction apprenticeship and pre-apprentice programs that are among the best in the nation—programs that have paved the way to the middle class for tens of thousands of individuals.

Early on, union construction programs recognized an opportunity to develop recruitment tools that went beyond general open recruitment to reach into local communities. The pre-apprentice programs provide apprenticeship readiness training, which advances successful placement into union apprenticeship programs.

Union apprentice programs are the key to launching careers, not just jobs, while participants earn benefits and a middle-class wage. From the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills to Helmets to Hardhats to Nontraditional Employment for Women to Pathways 2 Apprenticeship, these programs provide access to an apprenticeship for economically disadvantaged communities in our city.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and our direct-entry partners recently doubled-down on efforts to create career opportunities through pre-apprenticeship programs. We launched the first-of-its-kind Apprenticeship Readiness Collective to coordinate services, outreach and programming among four leading pre-apprenticeship direct-entry programs to create an even greater impact in New York’s historically marginalized communities.

These union-affiliated pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs have committed to serving an integral role in achieving the diversity commitments enshrined in the new Project Labor Agreements reached between the city and the the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

The Apprentice Readiness Collective is now another tool in our toolbox to lead outreach and recruitment efforts to workers from ZIP codes where at least 15% of the population lives below the federal poverty level to achieve the PLAs’ goal of ensuring that at least 30% of all hours worked under the city’s PLAs are logged by workers from economically disadvantaged ZIP codes.

That is creating access to training programs and real job opportunities in some of New York’s neighborhoods that need it the most right now.

But that’s what apprenticeship programs do, and that’s why now–during National Apprenticeship Week–we need to do more than praise these programs for what they do. We must insist that these programs become central to any economic recovery plan meant to help the city turn the corner in this crisis.

We need these apprenticeship programs because they provide paid skills training and proper workforce education, and they incentivize long-term commitments between employees and employers to help support growth–personally and economically. Union apprentice programs are self-financed by the union construction industry, and millions of dollars are spent by union contractors and their union partners annually to ensure a ready, safe and productive workforce for years to come.

Apprenticeship programs create opportunities where none may have existed before. They elevate the importance of diversity in the workforce. They keep workers safe with safety training central to their programming.

Most important, they create middle-class careers with benefits that build our neighborhoods and our cities–and build up our families.

Most of the leaders in the union construction industry got their start in union apprenticeships; many have joined through pre-apprenticeship and direct-entry programs. We have no doubt such is the case across many other industries.

National Apprenticeship Week is an important reminder of the integral role that these programs play in our economy and in jumpstarting middle-class careers. But this year, let this week serve as more than a reminder of the importance of an apprenticeship.

Let’s make it the beginning of a plan to put New York back to work.

Gary LaBarbera is president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. Nicole Bertrán is the executive vice-president of the Edward J. Malloy Initiative for Construction Skills.

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