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Labor Unions, Colleges Promote Apprenticeships This Week

Courtesy of Kenna May

Colleges and labor unions are working to promote apprenticeships as a way to fill gaps in industries that have a shortage of qualified workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor has designated this week as National Apprenticeship Week.

Spokane Community College has one of the largest apprenticeship programs in Washington.

Apprenticeships have a long track record of developing new workers in many European countries, but they’ve had an uneven history in the United States. Kenna May from SCC says she’s happy they’re making a comeback here.

“It’s an age-old way to learn a trade. You earn while you learn. That’s the motto of an apprenticeship. Earn while you learn. I don’t know of any other post-secondary education where you’re getting paid to learn," she said.

May says her college offers apprenticeships in construction, manufacturing, hospitality, health care and information technology. The programs provide paid on-the-job training, plus at least 144 hours of applied classroom work that’s directly related to the job.

“Like math. If you’re a roofer or you’re a cement mason, you need to be able to calculate the pitch of a roof or how much concrete you’re going to need to pour a slab or pour a driveway or whatever you’re doing. A lot of them work on math. They do a lot of safety training," she said.

May’s program works with labor unions and companies to develop and run the programs.

Besides her professional advocacy, she shares a personal testimonial about her son.

“He was the kid that took everything apart growing up. So I’d come home and the VCR was in 17 pieces on the living room floor. He got average grades and he worked really hard to achieve those grades. He got into apprenticeship out of high school and he flourished," she said.

Now she says he’s a journeyman electrician with a good career.

May says one challenge with developing apprenticeship programs is changing the perception about them.

“We’re really trying to target parents. Every parent wants their kid to go to a four-year college and become a doctor or a lawyer. Not all kids are set up for that," she said. "We’re also trying to break the stigma of the dirty construction worker as people who are not as smart as other people," she said.

May says apprenticeship programs are working to become more attractive to students who weren’t target audiences before.

“Right now, the construction trades are screaming for women and minorities. There’s apprenticeship programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, where people can attend classes and get the skills and knowledge needed to be successful,” she said.

That includes earning an associate’s degree that can be the jumping off point to that coveted four-year degree.

She predicts that as apprenticeships grow in skilled trades and construction, that other industries will take the plunge and offer more opportunities.