The building trades in New Jersey are gearing up their workforce development and apprenticeship efforts to meet the demands of major infrastructure and renewable energy projects.
“With massive infrastructure projects lining up before us, a highly trained workforce that is ready-to-go at a moment’s notice is more important than ever,” Local 825/ELEC President Greg Lalevee says. “Our two training centers and instructors are continually working to prepare new operating engineers, while at the same time helping more experienced members master upgrades in software and equipment.” Local 825’s newest class of apprentices completed a college semester at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) earlier this year before arriving at the union’s training centers to begin their conventional apprenticeships.
The Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters (EASRCC) Apprenticeship Fund is training between 1,000 and 1,200 men and women in New Jersey to be carpenters. They are part of a four-year program operated through regional apprenticeship programs in Eastern states and run by the Northeast Carpenters Apprentice Training Fund (NCAF) with training facilities in Edison and Hammonton. NCAF is funded by contractor contributions and operated by a joint committee of union representatives and contractor representatives from Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey (ACCNJ).
The EASRCC Apprenticeship Fund has moved into a new 17-acre outdoor facility for training pile drivers and dock/wharf builders on full-size commercial equipment such as cranes, excavators, pile drivers, drill rigs, and gang forms. The apprenticeship program had been relying primarily on Power Point presentations and scaled-down mockups in the shop, according to Nick DeMatteo, executive director of the EASRCC Apprenticeship Fund.
“We have also acquired the dive center in Sicklerville, where we can train commercial divers and also provide experience to our members in marine construction techniques,” DeMatteo says. His organization also has a new pre-apprentice program, Carpenters Apprentice Ready Program (CARP), that is providing career opportunities for individuals from disadvantaged and underserved communities at both the Edison and Hammonton training centers.
IBEW Local 102’s decades-old apprenticeship program currently has more than 400 apprentices across all classifications of electrical skills. Local 102’s training center also helps an average of 800 Journeyman a year with various levels of continuing education. The apprenticeships require a minimum of 900 hours of classroom training coupled with 8,000 hours on the job.
“We continue to turn out some of the best trained electricians in the state,” Local 102 President Bernie Corrigan says. Most of this training takes place in the union’s training center in Parsippany and on jobsites throughout northern New Jersey. But Local 102 also has a tuition reimbursement program to encourage members to broaden their education at colleges. “We recognize there are limits to our center and welcome the partnerships we enjoy within the higher education community and among other training facilities. Our tuition reimbursement program, implemented in 2017, continues to build a better workforce while providing employees with the ability to more easily pivot to another job,” Corrigan says.
Local 102’s five-year-old partnership with Rowan University has provided the pathway for 17 union members to earn a BA in Construction Management. The program has provided more than $300,000 in tuition relief and approved more than 100 applications for courses at Rowan. “Like any industry, the electrical field continues to evolve. We need to prepare the workforce to better serve our contractors and the end users,” Corrigan says.
“There are never enough skilled workers who are adequately trained. This is especially true regarding safety,” says EASRCC’s DeMatteo. “These programs are important to support the large infrastructure initiatives across the region as well as renewable energy programs in the wind and solar fields.”
Local 825’s relationship with Hudson County Community College has grown out of the operating engineer union’s efforts to convert its training center into a technical college.
“The operating engineer of the future is going to have to be more broadly educated, so we’re leaning into that,” Lalevee says. “The partnership with HCCC allows apprentices to earn credits toward an Associate of Applied Science degree in Technical Studies.”
In its effort to gain technical college accreditation for the Local 825 training center, which is accredited through the Council for Occupational Education, but not yet a degree program, the union has hired a chief academic officer to guide the development of a combined apprenticeship program and degree-granting technical college. The chief academic officer also will develop a curriculum and work to expand the training center’s partnerships with community colleges throughout New Jersey to make it easier for members to take classes close to home. “When they’re ready, they can transfer their credits back to us as they work toward their apprenticeships,” Lalevee says.
DeMatteo say New Jersey has “tremendous resources available” for starting and growing apprenticeship programs, but it could do more to improve the skills of journey persons or incumbent workers and invest in equipment on which to train them. “In New Jersey, funding for investment in capital equipment is also more limited. Acquiring and maintaining state-of-the-art equipment in a training facility can be very costly.”
Local 102’s Corrigan applauds the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities program, which he says brought more than 1,000 partners to the table to further the conversation about training and education and promoting lifelong learning. It seems to be helping because the popularity of a career in the trades supplemented with academic courses is growing.
“Like many others, I have seen studies that point to shortages of individuals pursuing a career in the skilled trades,” Corrigan says. However, he is not seeing that trend at Local 102, which has scheduled interviews with more than 300 applicants for approximately 50 (apprenticeship) spots.
“Sometimes, I think we focus too much on workforce development and miss the opportunity to zero in on individuals and what is best for them. It’s great to have pathways, but if we can’t shine a light on them so interested parties can find these opportunities, we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle,” Corrigan says. “There is always more to be done. For me, it is more of a mindset. The idea of a constant pursuit of improvement is something that needs to transcend all levels of any organization. Workforce development is not just for exploring new career paths, it’s also about building your current team.”
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