Growing California’s Workforce: If I Had a Hammer

welder traineeIf we believed everything the media tells us about labor relations in California, most of us would have the picture of businesses, mostly small and family owned, struggling valiantly to survive against the predations of an over-large and over-reaching government, and of the rapacious labor unions, both intent on driving these businesses out of California, if not out of business entirely.

However, like Sportin’ Life tells us in Porgy and Bess, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

And this is due in large part to California having the wisdom, back in 1939, to set up an agency called the California Apprenticeship Council, which blends businesses, government agencies, and unions to work very well together for goals that benefit all of us.

What’s a CAC?

The California Apprenticeship Council is a 17-member partnership operating under the Department of Industrial Relations. There are six members representing management, six representing labor, two representing the public and three ex officio members representing the chancellor of the California Community Colleges, the superintendent of public instruction, and director of the Department of Industrial Relations.

Members are selected by their respective groups for a four-year term. The council meets quarterly in different cities around the state.

What’s an Apprentice?

Apprenticeship is a time-tested system of learning while earning, and learning by doing. It combines training on the job with related and supplemental instruction. Classes in the CAC program are mostly held after hours in local high school or community college classrooms.

Most secondary-level teachers know that not all of their students are four-year college material. Many of these students are bright, analytic, and good with their hands; the ones who would make superb welders, steamfitters, or mechanics.

But more and more, students are being channeled into college-track classes where they may not fit. And in frustration, they drop out. In California, only 70 percent of high school freshmen graduate. Of these, 43 percent enter community colleges or state colleges and universities. Only sixteen percent receive a BA or BS degree within six years.

What’s a CAC Program?

It’s an “earn and learn” program that provides workers with advanced skillsets that meet the needs of employers. Unlike many of the for-profit trade schools, with their astronomical tuition rates and low job placement rates, CAC apprentices are paid to be in the program and guaranteed a job when they complete the program. Graduates also receive an industry-issued, nationally-recognized certificate or credential that certifies their occupational proficiency.

All on-the-job training is paid by the employer under agreements with the CAC. The agreement signed with the employer is a commitment to continued employment and training when the student graduates. All workplace safety regulations are clearly spelled out and followed.

The pay rate is usually between 35% and 50% of the prevailing wage for that craft. Raises come usually on a semiannual basis. As an example, Journeyman pay for the Cement Masons locals in our area is $30.00 per hour, plus benefits totaling $21.00.

An entry-level apprentice is paid $12.00, plus benefits (including health coverage) totaling $9.76 per hour.

This means that students do not have to take out usurious loans to finance their training, and they can support themselves and their families while they are learning their craft or trade.

The period of training is from 1 to 6 years, depending upon the trade. Most programs are for 4 years. The training is supervised by a Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) – sometimes called Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), or by a Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee (UAC), which covers a particular trade or skill.

In most cases this means attending classes at night 4 hours each week, for at least 108 hours a year. The instruction includes such subjects as safety laws and regulations, mathematics, drafting, blueprint reading and other sciences connected with the trade.

Currently there are more than 200 trades and professions supported by the CAC, ranging from Cosmetologist, to Electrician, to Emergency Medical Technician, to Millwright, Plumber, and Stone Mason.

Who Wins?

First, the students win.

Instead of being shuffled off into minimum-wage, dead end jobs, they learn high-paying skills and are paid right from the start, including benefits, while they learn their skills. These skills are transferrable; once they earn their Journeyman’s card, they can sell their skills anywhere.

Second, the businesses win.

They gain access to willing and teachable employees who will grow with the company and be part of a highly-productive and highly-motivated work force while they are with the company.

Businesses also save on Human Resource expenses, particularly since turnover rate is very low among CAC students. Far less money is spent on recruiting and retraining, and a steady workforce provides accurate costing for bidding jobs.

The emphasis on safety training reduces injuries, and so workers’ compensation costs are lower.

Businesses also get a proven training model that allows them to train their apprentices efficiently.

Third, the public wins.

Students who might normally drop out of school and require some form of public assistance are now supporting themselves and contributing to the economy.

The community wins because these students are buying cars, houses, clothes, and other goods, and paying taxes.

With the growth of high-tech companies like Space-X, and their network of specialty suppliers, plus the increase in infrastructure upgrading and green energy jobs, a large workforce with a wide range of skills will be even more of a necessity than it is now.

And this workforce is a powerful attraction for businesses to locate and stay in California.

Fourth, the Veterans win.

And, when the Vets win, we all win.

Most of the apprentice programs work closely with the Helmets to Hardhats organization to transition discharged Armed Forces veterans into lucrative and productive occupations.

john macmurraySo, expanding our economy, providing opportunities for our students, upgrading our infrastructure, and expanding the Green Jobs sector will require many skilled trade and crafts workers.

And with the help of the California Apprenticeship Council, there is no reason to bring these workers in from other states; we’ll grow our own.

John MacMurray

Useful sources:

Posted: Sunday, 21 October 2012

Published by the LA Progressive on October 21, 2012
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About John MacMurray

John MacMurray is a retired junior high teacher from the Fullerton School District. He ran as the Democratic candidate for California's 72nd Assembly District in 2006, 2008, and the Special Election/Runoff election of 2009/2010. He is active in voter registration and candidate support in his community; and in union affairs as a member of CTA/Retired. He lives in La Habra, with Ida, his wife of 37 years.