North America’s Building Trades Unions: Increasing Apprenticeship Opportunities Through Innovation

(By )  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 offers a reliable path to the middle class without saddling workers with debt. 

Today, our unions and our signatory contractors invest over $1 billion a year to fund and operate over 1,600 joint labor-management training centers that produce the safest, most highly-skilled and productive craft workers found anywhere in the world.

And, we are leading the construction industry in innovative workforce development by providing increased opportunity to underserved communities and diversifying the construction workforce through the use of apprenticeship readiness programs and modern curriculum.

Our readiness programs use the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum, a comprehensive, 120-hour apprenticeship preparation curriculum. The MC3 provides a gateway for community residents to gain access to Building Trades registered apprenticeships, which are jointly administered by labor and management. In 2012, the Department of Labor recognized the MC3 with its Registered Apprenticeship Innovator and Trailblazer Award.

The Multi-Craft Core Curriculum is offered in cooperation with state and local Building Trades Councils, local community groups, government agencies and schools.

In Sacramento, California, the Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades Council sponsored an apprenticeship readiness program with support from the NBA’s Sacramento Kings that has targeted “high need” workers for jobs on the Kings new downtown arena project. The project is being built under a project labor agreement and has exceeded the Kings’ goals for local hiring and use of local contractors so far.

In Augusta, Georgia, the local Building Trades Council began training apprenticeship candidates for work at the Plant Vogtle Nuclear Project in November 2014. They worked with local Building Trades apprenticeship coordinators, Southern Company, Chicago Bridge and Iron, the Burke County Board of Education, local Workforce Investment Boards and Goodwill of Central Georgia.

The goal of the program is to train 150 apprenticeship candidates, targeting women, people of color and transitioning veterans, to work at the Plant Vogtle facility and other Building Trades projects in the Augusta area. The first three graduating classes show that 82% of program graduates were persons of color, 41% were female and 11% were transitioning veterans.

North America’s Trade Unions is also the principal supporter of the Helmets to Hardhats program.  In 2015, H2H placed over 1,600 veterans in Building Trades registered apprenticeship programs around the country, and since its inception it has placed over 20,000 veterans into skilled craft apprenticeship programs.

One of those veterans was Dawn Renee Benitez, a one-time staff sergeant with the U.S. Army, Dawn earned an Iraq Campaign Medal with a Campaign Star. Unfortunately, and like all too many of America’s veterans, Dawn found it increasingly difficult to find meaningful employment and career options in civilian life. But, through the joint efforts of Southern Company, Georgia Power and the Helmets to Hardhats program, Dawn is now on the path to securing a stable career as a union ironworker.

Skilled craft apprenticeship programs offer the necessary capacity, 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 locally. We have done that for the last 80 years, and plan to lead on apprenticeship for the next 80 years, too.

Sean McGarvey is the president of the North America’s Building Trades Unions.