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Apprenticeship: The other four-year degree

November 11, 2015
By Bill Gerhard

DesMoines, Iowa – 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, apprenticeship is the "other four-year degree."Apprenticeship programs have also proven to provide a greater return for employers. Economic return on investment has shown that employers gain a return for craft training of as much as $3 to every $1 that is invested; accounted for by improved safety, elimination of rework and increased productivity of the craft worker. Similarly, those completing an apprenticeship earn substantially more over a career than the average two-year college degree graduate.

The joint administration of apprenticeship funds and training enables contractors and craft organizations to develop and modify training in real time, in order to better fit the needs of the industry at any given time.Similarly, training and education curricula are developed in a manner that is career centered, and in keeping with the needs of a lifetime career, rather than narrowly suited to a single employer’s immediate needs.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.The apprenticeship infrastructure of North America's Building Trades Unions, which today encompasses more than 1,600 training centers across the United States, and which is privately funded through collectively bargained contributions that exceed $1 billion per year, offers young men and women the chance to work and further their education, without the burden of student loans. 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 Americans from all walks of life. That is why today our unions are making concerted efforts to work with state and local government, 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. Since its inception in 2003, the program has helped place over 20,000 veterans in skilled craft 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.

November 11, 2015

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