Editor’s Note: This is part of a blog series by the Office of Labor-Management Standards on the various ways unions support workers. In November, OLMS Director Jeffrey Freund wrote about how unions serve the interests of members and non-members alike “beyond the bargaining table.” Today’s piece looks at labor union-sponsored pre-apprenticeship programs.
What are pre-apprenticeships?
Pre-apprenticeships bridge skill gaps to help participants who are not employment-ready learn both skills they need to qualify for entry into high-quality registered apprenticeship programs and the competencies to successfully complete those apprenticeships. These programs most often target job seekers such as young adults, women, and other populations who face obstacles to access high quality employment and in in-demand occupations. By helping build essential skills – such as math, time management, and computer and financial literacy – and connecting them to supportive services such as transportation, childcare, or others, high quality pre-apprenticeships provide a solid foundation needed for the successful completion of registered apprenticeship programs.
Union support for pre-apprenticeships
Labor union sponsorship for pre-apprenticeships is not new – especially in the construction trades. North America’s Building Trades Union, a federation of 14 member unions, has a long history of supporting construction pre-apprenticeships. Over 15 years ago, the federation created a “common core curriculum” for building and construction trades pre-apprenticeship training programs commonly known as MC3. They did this by identifying the essential elements from all building trades’ apprenticeship programs that were not particular to any one trade. General skills such as blueprint reading, safety, and even how to interview for jobs, are among the core elements included. Union members and leaders often are the teachers in pre-apprenticeship classrooms providing hands-on instruction, as well as mentorship to participants – and have been doing so for many years. The MC3 has been implemented in programs throughout the country. For example, the Boston Building Pathways pre-apprenticeship program helps individuals learn more about the industry, develop skills, and be more competitive in union apprenticeship programs.
Building Futures: a pathway to the middle class in central Ohio
Unions are behind several innovative pre-apprenticeship programs launched in recent years. Take the Building Futures program in Franklin County, Ohio,a 12-week program that teaches unemployed and underemployed workers basic skills needed to qualify for entry into building trade apprenticeship programs – where they can then train for in-demand construction trades. Building Futures’ program includes instruction in basic construction skills, exposure to different trades, and general life skills – such as reading, math, and computer and financial literacy – providing the foundation for participants to enter and successfully complete more comprehensive and specialized apprenticeship programs in carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, and other trades.
Building Futures is a partnership between the Columbus Building Trades Council and the Franklin County government and is administered by the Columbus Urban League. The program got off the ground in 2017 when community and NAACP leaders came together to address the underrepresentation of Black, Latino and women in the predominantly white male local building and construction trades workforce. Leland Bass, Building Futures Program Manager, recalled that “In the early days, there was distrust among some of the partners. But by agreeing to communicate and commit to what was best for the greater community, they overcame those tensions to build something special.”
Building Futures and other similar programs exemplify how pre-apprenticeships can create life-transforming opportunities for people who face barriers to employment and are underrepresented in construction. Notably, almost half of the program graduates are or have been justice-involved. And earlier this year, the program graduated its first all-female cohort of 13 women. After completing subsequent apprenticeships, Building Futures graduates can secure good-paying union jobs with benefits in the building and construction trades – truly a pathway to the middle class. And with more skilled tradespeople in the labor force, employers can fill in-demand construction jobs, helping spur economic development in Central Ohio.
Mr. Bass credits the graduates, and their many success stories, as the best advertisement for the program, which has a sizeable waitlist. The program’s first few years produced 50-60 graduates annually. In this current 2022-2023 program year, the goal is to graduate 400 workers.
Building Futures is only one example of a union-backed pre-apprenticeship program that provides men and women a bridge to more, and better, employment opportunities. Apprenticeship graduates finish with trade-specific credentials and skills that are in demand by many employers. Graduates are well-positioned to find good jobs, stable employment, and career-advancing opportunities; data maintained by the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship shows that persons who complete registered apprenticeships earn annual average wages of $77,000. Moreover, a recent evaluation study prepared for the Department’s Employment and Training Administration presents further evidence that pre-apprenticeship programs are effective. Among the study’s key findings, 81 percent of pre-apprentices completed their programs, 63 percent continued to a registered apprenticeship program, and 83 percent of pre-apprentices were employed after their programs ended.
Interested in learning more about pre-apprenticeships? We invite you to visit www.apprenticeship.gov, the Department of Labor’s one-stop shop for information on pre-apprenticeships and registered apprenticeship programs. We also invite you to stop by the Office of Labor-Management Standards website to learn about our work to advance democracy and integrity among over 20,000 labor organizations in the United States.
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