More than 200 educators from North America’s leading construction unions came to Washtenaw Community College last month to draw attention to the
importance of apprenticeships and how they plan to fill important jobs in the construction industry.

The meeting, the first of its kind, was entitled “North America’s Building Trades Unions Apprenticeship and Training Conference.” Focus of the meetings was on challenges facing skilled trades educators, as well as determining best practices and effective strategies for meeting North American employers’ demands for skilled manpower, according to Chris Haslinger, United Association’s Director of Training and Chair of the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) standing committee on apprenticeships.

“The instructors here are the ones who have the collective responsibility for preparing thousands of apprentices to be ready to build America,” Haslinger said.

While this was the first combined meeting of the unions on the apprenticeship initiative, it won’t be the last. “We’ve already begun the planning process for
next year,” Haslinger said.

The unions also are working to attract more women and minorities into apprenticeships through an Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ARP).

The goal of the ARP coursework is to empower participants to make decisions as to which craft they might pursue — by giving them a first look at an industry before they apply for a formal apprenticeship.

This initiative was addressed in a written greeting from Sean McGarvey, NABTU president: “Our unions continue to make a concerted effort to work with state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, to further expand our pre-apprenticeship programs so that we can provide more opportunities for historically underserved populations, primarily communities of color, women and military veterans.

“The joint labor management apprenticeship system is an opportunity for people in our country, from all walks of life, to become highly skilled, safe and productive
craft professionals with a secure and stable footing in the American middle class.”

A typical apprenticeship program combines paid on-the-job training with academic instruction for people entering the workforce, union officials said. By combining occupational and in-class components, apprenticeships help individuals put academic skills to practical use in various vocational careers – including construction.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for construction workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014–2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca gave the opening remarks at the conference — commenting on the ways the college supports the construction trades through its partnerships with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers (Ironworkers) and the United Association of Union Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sprinkler Fitters Welders and HVACR Technicians (UA).

Both organizations come to the WCC campus each summer to hold Instructor Training programs that provide instructors a wide array of classes to keep abreast of the skills workers need for today’s jobs and those of the future.

“There is an invaluable connection between instructor training and apprenticeship programs and meeting the workforce demands of business and industry,” said Dr. Bellanca. “By going through an apprenticeship program, workers garner skills that will increase their employability for jobs both in the United States and internationally.”

The annual union training gatherings at WCC have a significant impact on the local economy.

“It was another incredibly successful and rewarding year hosting the UA and the Ironworkers for each organization’s training programs,” said Mary A. Kerr, President and CEO of the Washtenaw County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“With thousands of individuals attending, dining in our restaurants and experiencing local attractions, the events generated an estimated economic impact of $11 million in Washtenaw County in just two weeks. We’re already looking forward to welcoming them back in 2017.”

By Susan Ferraro, APR
Director of Media Relations