The need for construction workers is tremendous; with $36 billion of construction work currently in the pipeline and another $40 billion to be spent with the recently-passed Infrastructure Bonds, projections run up to 144,000 new construction workers needed. The average age of construction workers is 39, many current construction workers are getting ready to retire. Today, for every four people who leave the trades, only one new trained person is supplied by current apprenticeship programs.

According to the California Department of Education, out of every 100 students who enter our public high schools in this state, 30 will drop out before graduation.  Of the 70 who are left, only 21 will go on to college.  Of those who attend community colleges, half will drop out in the second semester.  Yet, most of our education and counseling resources are geared to encourage young people to enter and complete college, even though few will ever do that.

How Can We Curb the Crisis?

In August 2002 the State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO (SBCTC) launched the ambitious BC3 program to conduct public outreach and offer education about apprenticeship and careers in the trades. Funded by grants over the past 4 years, BC3 has spread the word to a huge cross-section of Californians.

Among those benefitting from our outreach are: high school students, at-risk youth, adult job seekers, job developers, counselors, educators, parents, veterans, and ex-offenders. Through classroom presentations, career fairs, community events, conferences, and trainings BC3 has contacted many thousands of people.

BC3 makes young people aware of the fact that there are comparable alternatives to getting a four-year degree after high school.  These alternatives are in the state’s outstanding apprenticeship programs in the building and construction trades and other occupations.  California has the largest and highest quality apprenticeship programs in the nation.  With 66,000 current participants, the state is by far the most active in providing training for alternative careers.  New York has the second most students, with 23,000.

BC3 developed an interactive web site, videos, CDs, brochures, posters, and programs.

Building and construction trade careers are very diverse.  They include carpenters, electricians, laborers, operating engineers, elevator constructors, teamsters, plumbers, painters and many other trades.  Today, over 375,000 union trade workers enjoy excellent pay and health and pension benefits.  Students in state-approved apprenticeship programs start out at 40% of the prevailing wage with benefits.  This translates to about $12-15 per hour as they begin their program of classroom work and on the job training.  This compares favorably to the usual minimum wage job available to young people new to the workforce.  When they finish their program, generally 3-5 years, they become a journeyman, averaging $28 per hour in the state.  Many trades pay in excess of $75 per hour with overtime.  Many programs also integrate a two-year degree into their curriculum.

Finally, the BC3 grant will carry perhaps the most important message about the professional trades.  Unlike an entry-level job, or even college, entry into an approved apprenticeship program provides new workers with an existing support network of mentors, fellow students and workers, life-long colleagues and organizations committed to developing a sense of family.  For new workers, this may be the best benefit of all.

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