A record number of apprenticeship programs in New Jersey are helping train and prepare skilled workers needed across a broad range of industries. The state’s construction trades have historically been at the forefront of efforts to expand pathways to advanced industry credentials and career opportunities. And Gov. Phil Murphy’s focus on the positive impact of apprenticeships and training programs has added significant momentum that’s good for workers, employers and New Jersey’s economy.
During his 2020 State of the State address, the governor noted, “We’re putting a college education back within reach. And, for those who want the opportunity, we’ve reinvested in workforce development and apprenticeships like never before. We are building a New Jersey where everyone belongs, and everyone matters.”
In March, New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo recognized the recipients of $3 million in new GAINS (Growing Apprenticeship in Nontraditional Sectors) grants to expand earn-while-you-learn opportunities. He also noted that New Jersey had reached its 1000th Registered Apprenticeship program (there are now 1,002) – a 64% increase since Murphy took office in January 2018. The continued expansion of apprenticeship opportunities builds on record growth in 2018-19, when New Jersey was ranked first among the states in percentage of DOL-registered apprenticeship growth.
Apprenti™, the nation’s first registered tech apprenticeship program and a program of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Workforce Institute, was one of the 12 grant recipients. Apprenti will receive $215,400 through GAINS to train and place future tech workers at Princeton University and other employers in New Jersey.
Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), a longtime advocate of apprenticeships, joined NJDOL Commissioner Asaro-Angelo at the March event in Newark. She has sponsored bills to make apprenticeships more accessible for New Jersey residents. At the event, Senator Ruiz said, “Apprenticeships offer a pathway to lifelong careers, often in high-wage industries that are vital to our state’s economy.”
Apprenticeships are a key component of Murphy’s Jobs NJ initiative, a plan to both ensure that all career seekers can obtain the education and training needed to access high-quality jobs and help the state’s businesses and employers fill their talent needs. Additional funding for apprenticeships is part of the more than $20 million for implementing the Jobs NJ initiative announced by the governor in his FY2021 budget.
Bernie Corrigan, president, IBEW Local 102, gives the administration’s efforts high marks. “I believe the building trades model of apprenticeship is exactly what the governor points to when he wants to showcase success in the apprenticeship realm,” he says.
“I am an advocate for the traditional college education; I think there is great value in it, but I also feel we need to provide options. For too long, high school graduates have felt that the traditional pathway toward a four-year degree was their only option. Apprenticeship programs have become a bigger part of the conversation as rising costs associated with higher education force many families to explore different pathways to careers,” Corrigan says.
IBEW apprentices must complete a five-year program that requires a minimum of 900 hours in the classroom alongside a minimum of 8,000 on-the-job training hours. IBEW also provides OSHA 30 training to all apprentices before they ever set foot on a job.
Apprentices start out with an hourly rate of $22.81, plus benefits. The education portion is free of charge with the exception of books, which apprentices can keep. Couple this with IBEW’s 75% tuition reimbursement program and it is certainly an attractive pathway toward a career and a degree.
IBEW has also collaborated with Rowan University on a program that awards 53 college credits for apprentice-related coursework towards a BA in Construction Management. The online format is particularly appropriate given coronavirus-driven changes regarding how education is delivered during the pandemic.
Greg Lalevee, business manager of IUOE Local #825/ELEC, notes that the crisis has delayed the start of a new cohort of apprentices, due to restrictions on public gatherings, since classroom work is a mandatory program component. Rotating apprentices through the program is also keeping people engaged, learning and working.
Lalevee led the effort to create online work and learning capacity through a digital network that has allowed his organization to continue operations with staff working remotely. It has also helped Local 825 cut down on gatherings at union halls and its training center. “We are all trying to work together,” Lalevee states. “The challenge is how do we maintain productivity during these difficult times.”
Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer William C. Sproule says that each year brings more and more technological advances, and apprenticeship programs and training centers are advancing with these changes by keeping the workforce engaged and evolving with professional development class opportunities.
“You will find our training instructors utilizing technology like virtual reality, as well as tried-and–true skills training to educate the next generation of construction workers,” Sproule points out. “Our training centers always consider what aspects of the construction industry need improved training, due to the changing work opportunity demand.”
The Northeast Carpenters Training Fund’s Hammonton training center recently increased the tools and added programs necessary to instruct in pile driving and dock building to help support piledriver contractors’ needs, as well as better prepare workers for pending offshore wind industry projects in the region. The Hammonton Training Center is one of the only locations on the East Coast that teaches these skills to members from New England to Virginia.
The starting salary for a first-year apprentice is about $35,000 a year, and earning potential can be the same as a journeyman carpenter who can earn over $100,000 a year. This does not include the overtime work or additional benefit packages that union carpenters receive. Joining a trade within the Carpenters Union can be a very lucrative and smart career choice for anyone who wants to focus on their skill training.
“The Murphy administration has enhanced opportunities for the next generation of workers in regard to apprenticeships programs in the state,” Sproule concludes. “With student loan debt continuing to rise, the administration and everyone in general has seen the value of programs like the ones we host.”
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