Expanding the Path to Apprenticeships to Women and Minority Workers

Published nov. 04, 2015

“This apprenticeship is harder to get into than Harvard.” I’ve heard this statement numerous times about programs around the country (including in the Hechinger Report article and New York Times), and I am sure that many potential apprentices, workforce educators, and businesses have heard the same thing. It’s no surprise that many people jump at the opportunity to obtain in-depth education and training while earning a wage. Yet, the value of apprenticeships is even more pronounced when they provide pathways for individuals who face barriers to entering the middle-class. How can we make sure that apprenticeships are a real option for workers from every community?

JFF has been proud to support high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs as an accessible and effective gateway for underrepresented populations to enter apprenticeship programs. Supporting pre-apprenticeships to connect women and minorities to apprenticeships was one of the key strategies to place low-income adults into good careers during our five-year GreenWays initiative. We worked with local and national organizations around the country to foster relationships between underrepresented populations, unions, and registered apprenticeship providers. Resources developed with our partner organizations from these experiences provide great models for others who seek to ensure that everyone has a shot at an apprenticeship.

Recruiting and Preparing Diverse Apprenticeship Candidates

Pre-apprenticeships are a critical entry point into a training and career pathway for numerous reasons. A good program has deep community ties, and can recruit women and minorities to consider nontraditional occupations and apprenticeship programs as a real option for their future. They teach these individuals the technical skills, contextualized literacy and numeracy skills, and soft skills they need to succeed on the job or in an apprenticeship. Finally, these programs are equipped provide the case management that connects their trainees to the resources they need to overcome their transportation, housing, child care, and other barriers to work. Pre-apprenticeships can even help them navigate the apprenticeship application process in their community, whether that means sharing the application schedule or providing tutoring for the entrance exams.

Unfortunately, unlike registered apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship programs don’t have standardized conventions to ensure quality or continuing pathways into apprenticeships. These programs will be more effective if apprenticeship providers know that their graduates are quality apprenticeship candidates. To this end, in 2012, the Department of Labor issued a framework to improve consistency in these programs. The Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO also has recognized the value of pre-apprenticeships as a pipeline for a qualified and diverse talent pipeline into its 13 trades. Its apprenticeship committee developed the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) as the core curriculum that could bring community organizations and union partners together to deliver a pre-apprenticeship program. JFF not only organized training enabling our local community partners to deliver the MC3, but also facilitated curriculum revisions by Wider Opportunities for Women, who added modules that apply a gender lens to pre-apprenticeship programs in the building trades. These modules are publicly available through the Pink to Green Toolkit. These resources are a great starting point for community-based organizations that would like to ensure their pre-apprenticeship programs lead to opportunities in the registered apprenticeship system.

Best in Class Pre-Apprenticeships 

In some cities, recent investments have translated into exciting new relationships between training providers and apprenticeship programs to expand opportunities to individuals facing employment barriers. With technical assistance from JFF, the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund convened a new partnership to spearhead a new union-community pre-apprenticeship program, Access for All. Original partners for the new effort include JFF partners Southwest Housing Solutions and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, other community-based organizations including SER Metro, state and local Building and Construction Trades unions, and the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The program provides the underrepresented populations with wraparound services and occupational training using the Building Trades’ MC3 to prepare them for registered apprenticeships in six target trades. The first cohort graduated in July 2014 with almost 100 percent placement into apprenticeships and a starting wage of $16.85 per hour, and two subsequent classes have been so successful that the program is growing due to demand for graduates by employers and apprenticeships. 

In other cities, longstanding pre-apprenticeship programs have developed best practices for connecting diverse populations to the world of apprenticeship. In Washington, DC the Community Services Agency (CSA) of the Metro AFL-CIO has leveraged its relationships with unions to strengthen its pre-apprenticeship construction program, Building Futures, by use of training space, instructors, hands on learning opportunities, and input on program design by the local sheet metal workers, laborers, and carpenters unions. CSA has entered into agreements with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 51 and the Finishing Trades Institute for direct entry and consideration of advanced placement of Building Futures graduates. These valuable agreements demonstrate that the unions recognize the value of the program and provide for a more seamless transition from pre-apprenticeship to apprenticeship.

As the longest continuously operating pre-apprenticeship program for women in the U.S., ANEW in Seattle has expanded apprenticeship opportunities for women in the construction trades and manufacturing for over 30 years. The pre-apprenticeship program includes a trades rotation that provides women with direct experiences with apprenticeship training programs and facilities. ANEW’s deep relationships with a wide range of registered apprenticeships have enabled many program graduates to enter and succeed in apprenticeship programs. The value of ANEW and similar high-quality pre-apprenticeship programs is clear through the lives that they have transformed. Brittany Williams entered ANEW with a history of time in prison and homelessness. Brittany thrived in her pre-apprenticeship, and her success helped her earn a spot as an apprentice in Ironworkers Local 86, where she earns $25 per hour and is on a path to earn $43 per hour as a journey-level worker. 

I hope that we can continue to build and expand a national network of high-quality pre-apprenticeships that give everyone a shot at the Harvard of workforce training.

Read Deborah Kobes’ recent article in Manufacturing.net.

Read about our contract committed to this work.