Last week we attended a spectacular event. It was the third graduation of the 12-week Building Futures Pre-Apprenticeship Program. This program is designed to give low-income citizens of Columbus and Franklin County a pathway to a skilled-trades apprenticeship career that offers good wages and benefits, ongoing training, and job security. Franklin County, IMPACT Community Action and Columbus/Central Ohio Building Trades Council have all partnered to create this program that provides great jobs as well as pay back to citizens and the community.
The skilled trade jobs are very much in demand. Following natural disasters, such as the recent hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico, it has been difficult for reconstruction because there have not been enough skilled trade workers. Part of that is because of the stigma that has been around awhile about skilled trade jobs. There was more of a push for local schools to prepare students for four-year college educated jobs instead of trades-related jobs. A lack of funding, too, caused local schools to drop “shop” classes that helped steer students to jobs such as carpentry and other trades. In addition, tech jobs have been very enticing to students which could be done through the electricians skilled trade apprenticeship too.
Young people don’t always realize the benefits of skilled trade jobs. Many of them think the work is not “glamorous” or the work is hard without perks or an ability to earn a good paycheck. There are a couple of things that are helping to counter that, at least locally. Ohio legislation was recently passed that will allow skilled trade unions to reach out to high school students to help change that perception. In previous blogs, we’ve written about a new initiative we’re working on for sixth through eighth grade students to help them be more aware of these jobs.
The one thing the kids are correct about is the work can be hard. The apprenticeship programs are rigorous. Absenteeism must be kept to a minimum. Apprentices also are required to work during the day and go to school in the evening but they’re getting paid and paid well! Education is included and it can lead to a four-year degree that may also paid through the program.
Those graduates from the Building Futures program will probably see their annual income rise to a median of over $50,000. That’s a heck of a lot better than the minimum wage paying job or the low-paying job that kept them in a low income bracket.
How does that also help communities? Communities benefit in lots of ways. Some through the tax dollars that will be coming in or the purchasing power of the workers who are no longer scrimping to make ends meet. With a higher income, new cars can be bought which helps auto workers. New homes can be purchased or built. Even retail stores can see an uptick in the purchasing power these workers will now have. It’s all that trickle down effect.
There also is a social benefit for these graduates. Those that have needed to work more than one job to make ends meet can now spend more time with their families rather than balancing multiple work schedules. They won’t have the fear or shame if they can’t pay their bills . They’ll now have a much better secure economic future. It also makes them feel better about themselves as they are truly able to accomplish a big task. Some of the graduates walked around with their little babies or children who were in the audience. It was quite emotional to watch these proud parents who made it through this big first step.
What also was exciting to hear two graduates already obtained jobs before graduation and two graduates from previous classes had been named employees of the month at their workplaces.
If we don’t support workers or work to increase wages in this country it will end up hurting all of us. But we can turn that around. As Harvard Business Review reports raising wages can benefit workplaces, too. It can increase productivity and decrease turnover. The Economic Policy Institute also says higher wages help to improve business performance which can help the economy overall and continue to create jobs. Programs like Building Futures can help to turn things around especially in the local area. Like other areas, Columbus and Franklin County has a severe disparity between those earning higher incomes and the number of people in poverty. Helping to raise wages or encouraging those with lower paying jobs into higher skilled, higher paying jobs is one way to change that. Building Futures has been a win-win for everybody.
It also shows what can happen when labor and management work together. Construction companies have a skilled labor force which helps them to build their businesses. They are able to build solid and strong reputations as well as being competitive even with the higher wages. Both construction management and trade unions have high standards which help to provide quality work that help make that quality product.
The Building Futures program is a good example of how unions help others who are less fortunate and work to create strong communities. It’s what they’re all about. Those that have painted unions as fist pounding thugs must not have had anything to do with a union or know anything about them. We’ve blogged before about the George Meany banquet and the people that are recognized for their help to others and the community. We’ve also blogged about unions helping communities like Flint with their water crisis or the unions that provided free services immediately following the 9/11 attack or those that helped Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Unions aren’t just about bargaining to get decent wages and benefits or to improve working conditions. They help, to paraphrase a current slogan, make America great, not again, but now and in the future.
The benefits of the Building Futures program and a unionized skilled trades apprenticeship job are endless. If you know someone in the central Ohio area that could benefit from the Building Futures program, have them contact IMPACT Community Action or Central Ohio Building Trades. If you’re interested in starting something similar for your community, contact either organization.