Original blog post published on SEMCOG.org on November 27, 2017. Blog written by Naheed Huq. Click here to view the original story on the SEMCOG website. 

Apprenticeships are a proven tool for economic development, and Southeast Michigan is at the forefront of recognizing, celebrating, and growing participation in this pathway to success.

Apprenticeships develop in-demand skills. They help people with an interest in technical careers access debt-free education, training, and work experience. Apprenticeships also prepare a pipeline of workers ready for the many new developments taking place in our region.

While traditional programs in construction and manufacturing still account for the majority of apprentices, numbers are growing rapidly in health care and information technology. Michigan currently has 14,816 apprentices in 940 programs – nearly 10% more than last year. Apprenticeships such as electricians and plumbers usually take between three and five years with a minimum of 144 academic hours and 2,000 paid work experience each year. Some of the newer programs are shorter in duration – ranging from one to two years, depending on industry and employer requirements.

Earlier this month, I attended two National Apprenticeship Week events. I was impressed by the collaboration between business, labor, education, workforce development, and government.

Operating Engineers

The Operating Engineers 324 hosted a kick-off event at their construction career center in Howell with about 200 people, including representatives from SEMCOG members Livingston Education Services Agency (ESA) and Oakland Schools. Speakers from the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Labor, Michigan Talent Investment Agency, Howell Schools, Operating Engineers, and Barton Malow discussed the increasing importance of apprenticeships.

Lee Graham, Executive Director of the Operating Engineers Labor-Management Education Committee, told attendees that “the future is bright for the skilled trades with new infrastructure,” citing a University of Michigan report that forecasts 21,000 new construction jobs in the next two years.

Wanda Stokes, Director of the Michigan Talent Investment Agency, said that apprenticeships are all about partnerships, including those with the Department of Labor, Michigan Works! Agencies, and the Going PRO campaign to change perceptions of skilled trades to professional trades. She also talked about the Pathfinder Tool – a free online career exploration tool that uses real-time labor market information, long-term industry trends, and other resources to improve connections to education and career opportunities.

Howell Public Schools Superintendent Erin McGregor said that “Howell Public Schools prepare students for the jobs of the future by offering robust career options including CAD, robotics, manufacturing, and health care.” The district provides career exploration in middle school, an early college program focused on manufacturing and health sciences in collaboration with the Livingston ESA and Lansing Community College, and a flexible approach to the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

Doug Maibach, Vice Chairman of Barton Malow, talked about paying wages, funding training, and providing work experience for people who “work hard AND smart.” Barton Malow is encouraging more diversity in its workforce by providing opportunities for non-traditional apprentices to experience skilled trades work through a six-week boot camp. It hired 836 new apprentices for Little Caesars Arena, and three of the firm’s corporate officers came from the skilled trades.

In addition to the agency representatives, we heard from current apprentices who came from different backgrounds but found success in apprenticeships and are looking forward to careers in skilled trades.

  • Nicole, who had previously worked in retail, recently completed a construction craft laborers apprenticeship. She is now on her way to getting a bachelor’s degree in Construction Management.
  • Maurice, an apprentice electrician is a former soldier who feels like he is back in the platoon while experiencing “outstanding professional development, testing conditions, and camaraderie.”
  • Doug is an apprentice operating engineer, who was content in a minimum-wage job until he had a child. Now he works each day from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. at the airport. He learns as much as he can by “picking journeymen’s brains” on the job and then going to school from 6-10 p.m. to “pick his teachers’ brains.”
  • Amanda got a degree in agriculture when she left the military but found it difficult to find a good career. With support from the federal Helmets to Hard Hats program, she entered an Operating Engineers apprenticeship. She is proud to use heavy equipment and “show other women that we can do it!”

A tour of the Operating Engineers’ 555-acre training facility in Howell showed how this facility provides students with hands-on experience with equipment such as excavators, cranes, and bulldozers in real-life conditions including hills, trenches, and water. The program has grown from 90 students to about 300 in the past seven years as building and construction across the region have thrived. The instructors are former skilled-trades professionals who can teach both the academics and the practical skills.

The facility also provides rescue training for firefighters, and training for those working with underground utilities for gas, telephone, and water/sewer pipelines.

Partnership for diversity and opportunity in transportation

On November 14, the Partnership for Diversity and Opportunity in Transportation (Partnership) hosted its second annual Apprenticeship Expo at the Randolph Career Technical Center in Detroit. This facility has undergone major renovations in the last year to make it a full-time education and training school for construction trades for Detroit Public Schools Community District students during the day and for adult training in the evening. The Partnership is made up of unions, businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations in Detroit collaborating to enhance economic development in the city through skilled trades training and preparation for transportation and construction careers.

Tony Kratofil, Engineer for Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) Metro Area said “The city is going through an exciting road-and-building construction renaissance, and we need more Detroiters in the skilled-trades employment pipeline.”

Ken Bertolini, Workforce Development Director for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), encouraged attendees to get the training so they could work on some of the transformational projects in the city and benefit from good salaries and benefits.

Updated classrooms and labs provide opportunities to explore different skills and help people decide on the right career for them.

National Apprenticeship Week highlighted the importance of apprenticeships in creating a pipeline of workers with in-demand skills. The work, however, goes on all year.

If you know of anyone interested in apprenticeships or skilled-trades careers, direct them to any of the following resources:

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