Apprenticeship programs promote opportunity and diversity in unionized construction

By Gary LaBarbera | October 25, 2022

Between the passage of the federal infrastructure bill, which has New York positioned to receive more than $100 billion in direct investment in public works projects across the state, and Governor Kathy Hochul’s dedication to pushing forward key infrastructure and clean energy projects, New York is primed to commence initiatives to upgrade mass transit systems, roads, highways, bridges, and other essential and critical elements of New York’s future.

The diverse portfolio of infrastructure projects soon to break ground statewide will increase the demand for the type of skilled labor provided by members of New York State’s unionized construction industry. Additionally, the unprecedented scale of the impending work will also create countless new opportunities for hardworking New Yorkers to enter the State’s construction industry.

While this infrastructure work will create thousands of new job opportunities for hardworking New Yorkers, our union apprenticeship programs  will turn those job opportunities into careers and will provide this new workforce with the skills and training necessary to successfully complete these projects. Our members and apprentices receive first class training at state-of-the-art facilities under programs and instructors designed to help them master their craft.  This is an excellent way to head into National Apprenticeship Week, which happens to begin November 14, as well as a reminder of the constant importance of pre-apprentice and direct-entry programs to the future of our workforce.

Pre-apprentice, apprentice, and direct-entry programs have become the crux of the unionized construction industry. Our apprenticeship programs provide entry-level workers with on-site and in the classroom craft skills training as well as safety training.  Our pre-apprentice and direct entry programs prepare individuals for careers in the construction industry by providing them with entry level skills and the soft skills necessary to succeed. These programs ensure that the State of New York will have a ready, safe and productive workforce to build its critical infrastructure for years to come.

Over the past few decades, through our pre-apprentice and direct entry programs, The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York has made it priority to connect tens of thousands of New Yorkers – particularly those from historically marginalized communities – to the opportunities available within the unionized construction industry. Our best-in-class programs include The Edward J. Mallory Initiative for Construction Skills, New York Helmets to Hardhats, Nontraditional Employment for Women, and Pathways to Apprenticeship, each of which works with distinct populations, from veterans to justice involved individuals. These programs do more than just help an individual attain a job, they help these workers build their own middle-class career with family sustaining wages, medical benefits, and retirement benefits.

Just last year, the New York City Building Trades launched a first-of-its-kind  Apprenticeship Readiness Collective (ARC), whereby its pre-apprentice and direct entry programs engage in a collaborative effort to connect individuals from the city’s underserved communities to opportunities for a future in New York City’s unionized construction industry.  Since its inception, the ARC has been working with the New York City to lead outreach and recruitment efforts aimed at workers from areas where at least 15 percent of the neighborhood lives below the federal poverty line.

We, along with thousands of New Yorkers in the unionized construction industry, know firsthand the exceptional opportunity generated by pre-apprentice, apprentice, and direct-entry programs. We’ve seen the lives of countless individuals changed for the better due to the career pathways carved by these programs. Our recruitment and workforce development efforts also demonstrate our commitment to diversity and ways with which the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York has improved accessibility to the unionized construction industry.

Continued investment in infrastructure projects and necessary workforce development will strengthen the pipeline for more women and people of color to access these trade opportunities and ensure that the infrastructure we build and upgrade is best-in-class. With the Build Back Better Plan set to create and save more than 15 million jobs over the next decade and increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11 to 14 percent of all jobs nationwide, the opportunity to build and grow the middle class in a historic fashion is at our fingertips and apprenticeship programs will be a cornerstone of that growth.

As we approach National to Apprenticeship Week, it should serve as an important reminder of the critical role that these programs play in our economy and in jumpstarting middle-class careers. As we continue to build back New York, and the nation, it’ll be the unionized tradesmen and tradeswomen, many of whom were once pre-apprentices and apprentices, leading the way forward. We at the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York are eager to continue our work to elevate the opportunities for New Yorkers from all backgrounds to pursue these sustainable and secure career paths.

Gary LaBarbera is the president of the New York City and New York State Building and Construction Trades Council.