Value of Training Highlighted During ETI Tour

Andrew Meredith was excited. The President of the State Building and Construction Trades Council was on day four of a five-day tour of the state’s apprentice programs and he had much to brag about. He had visited Sacramento’s Courthouse, the largest PLA in the area, a diesel refinery that was transitioning to renewable diesel energy, and just that morning he had seen the first offshore wind PLA off the central California coast. And best of all, he had seen a lithium extraction facility in Imperial County, the techniques of which could well provide a promising future for the construction industry.

Meredith was on a mission to highlight the 85th National Apprenticeship Week, held around the country Nov. 14-20, by spotlighting all of the outstanding PLA programs around California. His latest stop was the ETI in Commerce, where the staff and IBEW 11 leadership were on hand to host the president and show him around the massive facility – home to one of the largest apprentice programs in the country.

Meredith was especially impressed with the apprentices.

“We are training the workforce of the future,” Meredith told the crowd of staff, officials and IBEW 11 leaders who accompanied him on the tour. “I also want to stress the value of PLAs, and that these apprenticeship programs are growing barrier-free pathways to the middle class. In the building trades, we offer equal opportunities for all.”

With technology constantly changing, from smart phones to smart buildings, “it’s important for our members to keep up,” added IBEW 11 Business Manager Joël Barton. “Especially with technicians who can now program entire buildings from offsite, the work of the IBEW 11 becomes even more critical.”

Best of all, noted Barton, students can earn while they learn a valuable trade, and be debt-free.

A report released earlier this year noted that union apprenticeship programs can go head-to-head with four-year college programs, and offer a better deal for many of our members because it won’t leave students with thousands of dollars in student debt. Analyzing data from the past 10 years from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau, the study found that graduates from union apprenticeship programs can make as much money and benefits as workers with a traditional college degree.

California is among the leaders in apprenticeship programs around the nation, with some 21,000 students in Southern California alone, said Chris Hannan, executive director of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. “LA alone features more than 27 different apprentice programs,” Hannan said. “We’re very proud of our programs.”

“These apprenticeship programs represent a new generation of workers,” Meredith said. “Of courses I’m an electrician by trade, so I’m biased. I know my own apprenticeship training changed my life. I was able to buy a house and raise three great kids. I’ve seen so many people’s lives transformed.”

Construction apprentice programs like the ETI are some of the best kept secrets, said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation. Gonzalez Fletcher also toured the facility. “These are good-paying careers. But how do we get more women in the trades? We’re working on getting $25 million in grant funds for pre-apprentice programs for women to help them with basic issues like childcare. Construction starts at 5 or 6 a.m. There’s no childcare open then.”

California’s Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai agreed. “Apprentices are the oldest and most successful means to get people in good-paying jobs in promising sectors without the cost of college loans,” she noted. “The building trades are the gold standard in apprenticeships. We want to take these models and take them to other industries. We need to reach out to women about these construction career opportunities.

“These type of apprentice programs are not second-class training programs,” Palugyai added. “We have to educate people about that. In fact, they are better than academic programs in getting graduates good-paying jobs after they complete the program.”

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