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Meeting of 4-5-17 EEOC to Examine the State of the Workforce and the Future of Work

Written Testimony of Kenneth Rigmaiden, President
International Union of Painters and Allied Trades

Chair Lipnic and distinguished Commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the future of work and filling the skills gap. I am honored and excited to discuss this timely and important topic. As General President of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), a building trades union whose members are the highly skilled men and women who painted the Capitol Dome and installed the glass exterior of the new Apple headquarters, I am constantly working to make sure our signatory contractors have the skilled work force needed to continue building and maintaining our communities and our infrastructure. My remarks today will focus on the steps we have taken, and that our nation must undertake, to teach the skills that will lead to meaningful careers for our citizens. The five key topics I wish to discuss are as follows.

  1. Apprenticeship programs provide an affordable education that does not leave its participants with one penny of debt. To the contrary, apprentices earn a living wage while learning the skills that will create a lifetime of opportunity.
  2. Apprenticeship programs are tied to work opportunities in a way that many other educational programs are not. If the US Government is serious about training that leads to jobs, it needs to use its purchasing power to drive apprenticeship utilization.
  3. Pathways into apprenticeship programs are critical to building up successful careers.
  4. The future of the construction industry is rooted in core skills but assisted by technology; our apprenticeship programs are already working to stay ahead of the technology curve.
  5. The future of apprenticeship programs depends on continued government support and recognition that these programs are legitimate, accredited educational institutions.

Apprenticeship Programs Provide an Affordable Education

The IUPAT represents workers in the finishing trades, including industrial and commercial painters, drywall finishers, glaziers, glass workers, floor coverers, and tradeshow and sign craft workers. Our members do gritty industrial work, blasting failing lead paint off bridges and water tanks and re-coating those structures with modern finishes that will extend their useful life. They also do highly skilled new construction, installing glass exteriors that take advantage of modern materials that make possible the most energy efficient structures ever built. And, they apply the finishing touches, paint, wall coverings and flooring of all types, that make interior spaces both beautiful and pleasant places to work and live.

Learning the skills needed to perform this work safely, efficiently and well is not easy. It takes not only classroom instruction, but also hands-on training to learn to work at heights, in confined spaces and utilizing ever-changing modern technology. Our members must learn to remove and capture peeling lead coating before it endangers our children. They must learn the sophisticated math need to make sure the angles and fittings on a glass exterior of a modern skyscraper are perfect, resulting in a weatherproof, energy efficient structure that will last for generations. They must learn how to apply the right coating for different surfaces that are located in different climates from Alaska to the Florida Keys, and be able to apply those protective coatings within a tolerance of a thousandth of an inch. Moreover, our journey workers are never through learning. The pace of change in our industries, as in our society as a whole, is ever accelerating. Those who do not constantly learn new skills will be left behind. We are proud to say that our members will not be among those who fall by the wayside.

This training is made possible by a web of apprentice and training funds, and the IUPAT Finishing Trades Institute International (FTI) leads the way. FTI develops the standards and the curriculum used by local apprenticeship programs operated in each of IUPAT's 33 District Councils in the United States and Canada. The FTI is governed by a board of trustees consisting of an equal number of union representatives and employers. Each local apprenticeship program has a similar structure.

The FTI and our local programs train approximately 15,500 apprentices each year. This training is funded through contributions for every hour worked by our members under collective bargaining agreements. Our members are willing to divert these contributions from wages, and our employers are willing to make this investment, because they realize that this skills training is what separates us from cut-rate competition and ensures that construction projects reflect modern building standards and existing structural and safety codes.

No apprentice pays a dime for this training. In fact, most of their training is on the job, where apprentices earn a living wage. It is an "earn while you learn" system that offers young people the chance to learn from the best-trained construction workers in North America.  When individuals complete our programs, they obtain a portable, nationally recognized credential that they can take anywhere in the country, one that comes with good pay and benefits to them and their families. An additional important feature is that most apprenticeship programs in the building and construction trades have  been assessed for college credit, which participants can apply toward  an associate's or bachelor's degree.

IUPAT, however, is not unique. Our sister unions in North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) also operate similar programs for the craft workers they represent. NABTU unions and their contractor partners operate more than 1,600 training centers in the United States. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of all registered apprentices in the United States work in the construction industry. Among construction apprentices, roughly 75% are enrolled in union sponsored apprenticeship programs. Every year, building trades unions their signatory contractors direct over $1 billion in private investments towards this educational system. When wages and benefits paid to apprentices are factored in, the annual investment exceeds $11 billion.i To put this investment in perspective, if the Building Trades training system, which includes both apprentice-level and journeyman-level training, were a degree granting college or university, it would be the largest degree granting college or university in the United States - over 5 times larger than Arizona State University.ii

As the commission and the government look at ways to fill the skilled job shortage they must ensure that, market needs are the key driver for curriculum and placement.

Work Opportunities Drive Training:

iii This joint labor-management structure described above also ensures that the training provided is directly connected to market needs. Construction contractors must constantly adapt to changing technologies in an ultra-competitive marketplace. Because those doing the hiring run joint apprenticeship programs, the training offered is exactly that needed to compete and win. Available slots in jointly funded apprenticeship programs are subject to market restraints. Because market participants fund these programs, class slots are only created when there are employers willing to hire those enrolled in the classes. This market-oriented approach ensures that our programs are designed to fill the jobs of today, tomorrow and 5 years from now.

The U.S. Government is the largest purchaser of construction. In 2016, the US Government spent $22,515,000,000 on federally funded construction.iv The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates 18 jobs are created for every million dollars of construction.v This means that, using a normal ratio of three journeyman to each apprentice, each million dollars of federal spending creates a need for three apprentices.

In short, construction spending not only creates jobs; it creates educational opportunities that lead to good, middle class careers. It does this at no additional cost because apprenticeship programs are funded privately. By building and re-building our nation's infrastructure, we can also build the labor force of the future.

Pathway into Construction Careers:

Despite these advantages, we still have difficulty attracting enough apprentices to fill the need. In part, this is a function of conventional wisdom holding that only a college education is a path to a meaningful, good paying career. This needs to change.

From 1990 to 2009, the average number of career and technical education (CTE) credits earned by U.S. public high school graduates declined from 4.2 to 3.6, while the average number of credits earned in other subject areas increased. In contrast, average credits earned in core academic fields (i.e., English, mathematics, science, and social studies) rose between 1990 and 2009.vi

The decline of vocational programs in public schools has left students without the knowledge of the skilled trades and without an alternative to the debt incurred in pursuing a college track. One byproduct of this dearth of vocational education is that many high school graduates who would be perfect candidates for construction apprenticeships waste several years pursuing degrees they never use. Today, the average age of a first year IUPAT apprentices is 27 And most first year apprentices now have some post high school education.

In order to create a conduit from high school to a career in construction industry, we at the IUPAT are attempting to collaborate with school boards, the federal government and community groups to create pathways into our apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeship training programs, which prepare candidates for the rigors and expectations of the workplace and the 3-5 year commitment required to complete a registered apprenticeship program, are highly adaptable models that can serve diverse populations and circumstances. However, successful outcomes are highly dependent on the full "buy-in" and structured collaboration of all sponsor organizations.

In Philadelphia, in conjunction with the school district the IUPAT and the Building Trades have created a summer immersion program to enable inner city students to experience the construction industry, understand the value of a career in the industry and the process for application into an apprenticeship program. This collaboration has helped increased applications to apprenticeship programs and has created opportunities for students who may not have otherwise learned of the apprenticeship system.

In addition, since 1969, IUPAT has continuously maintained National Training Contracts (NTC) with the U.S. Department of Labor National Office of Job Corps to provide pre-apprenticeship training and career placement services in our trades to disadvantaged youth ages 16-24. Under our current contract, the IUPAT Job Corps Pre-Apprenticeship Program operates 44 training programs at Job Corps centers nationwide (both Forest Service and private contractor managed), comprising 884 training slots. During this long-standing partnership, the IUPAT has trained and placed thousands of young men and women in the four finishing industries we teach. These programs must be expanded, not cut, if the Government is serious about closing the skills shortage and creating employment opportunities for those most at risk.

Another vital path to sustainable careers is by recruiting and training our veterans. These heroes deserve not only our respect but also all the help we can provide as they transition back into civilian life. IUPAT has worked hard to do our part.

The Painters and Allied Trades Veterans Program in Seattle, Washington conducts a four-week pre-apprenticeship immersion course in Industrial Coatings Preparation and Application for transitioning military personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Our partners in this endeavor are Camo2Commerce, Pac-Mountain Workforce Investment Board and JBLM Joint Forces Command. Candidates receive classroom instruction and hands-on training from journeymen instructors in industrial safety, rigging and scaffolding, sandblasting and surface preparation, brush/roll and spray coatings application. At completion, graduates earn an OSHA 30-hour card and SSPC CAS (Coatings Application Specialist) Level 1 Certification. Every transitioning veteran who completes the program is placed with IUPAT-signatory employer and enrolled with a full year of credit in a registered joint apprenticeship program. Since our first graduating class of June 2014, 36 of 36 graduates have successfully transitioned into full-time employment with a union-signatory contractor. Based on the success of the PAT/VP pilot program at JBLM, a template is in development for the use at other military bases around the country. (http://pat-vp.org/) ).

We will continue to look for other innovative ways to attract young men and, particularly, women to our programs. The IUPAT has one of the highest percentages of female members of any building trades union. Still, at less than 5%, there is a clear need for improvement. Accordingly, we have joined with Oregon Tradeswomen, Women Building California, and ANEW (Seattle) to recruit and retain female apprentices.

Future of the Construction Industry:

In order to prepare apprentices for the 21st century work place, our members will need a myriad of skills.  We must leverage the latest technology to provide workers that can get the job done as safely and efficiently as possible. Our glaziers no longer lay out a building using a tape measure, string line and a set of prints. Rather, they now use a tool that can lay out an entire building using digital blueprints, GPS and lasers. This is one example of constantly changing technology.

Training too uses the latest technology. Traditional mock-ups of job sites (expensive to build and maintain) are increasingly augmented with virtual reality and simulators that combine instructional design, game mechanics, and full motion simulation technologies. These systems challenge students through a series of realistic training missions that demand real-time consequence-based decisions. Research demonstrates that this type of game-based training accelerates skill development and significantly improves retention.  An added benefit is students learn to work in high risk situations in a safe, risk-free, virtual environment. 

 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an intelligent 3D model-based process that equips architecture, engineering, and construction professionals with the insight and tools to efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. Our training centers provide computer aided design (CAD), and other, innovative technology to our members. 

By integrating classroom and distance learning, workers can prepare for class from the comfort of their home with advanced curriculum delivery and learning management systems that will prepare them for more intense classroom and field training.  This type of e-training, blended with hands on field training, allows our members to learn skills faster, retain knowledge longer, and apply skills to real-world projects with these ever-changing technologies such as BIM, Robotics, Drones and Total Stations, among others.

Providing Appropriate Assistance to Apprenticeship Training:

When the IUPAT looks at how to fill the workforce needs of our contractors into the future, we know that we need to adapt. We will do our part. The Government can help in several ways. First, public schools should be encouraged to increase the number, and the quality, of vocational classes offered. High School guidance and career counselors should be made aware of apprenticeship opportunities, advised of the basic educational skills needed to enter these programs, and encouraged to recommend these programs as a good path for some students.

The government can also insist that apprentices be employed on federally funded or assisted construction projects. As discussed above, this is an efficient way for the government to both build the infrastructure we need to prosper and to encourage the development of skill-based education that will lead to real jobs.

Third, financial assistance is needed to maximize the possibilities. The IUPAT now uses virtual reality system to train painting, sandblasting, and welding. The investment in virtual reality is important in two regards, it is more attractive to potential members who are looking for a splash and it saves our programs money in the end. The capital investment, however, is sometimes heavy. Typical systems cost $50,000-$75,000 each. In deciding where to best spend grant money, the government should realize that a little assistance in this area would yield huge downstream benefits. This equipment will avoid the waste when a new apprentice tries to first use a spray gun, a blast nozzle, or a welding torch. By use virtual tools for this initial learning, training centers can save money and space devoted to real (and expensive) tools. Virtual training also provides a safe environment to learn the fundamentals of using the real equipment without the inherent danger. In short, virtual reality tools create good habits and minimize accidents when the student first uses actual tools.

Finally, IUPAT and other apprenticeship programs increasingly have looked to transform themselves into fully accredited educational institutions. Historically, apprenticeship programs have been forced to collaborate with community colleges or vocational education centers to enable apprentices to earn credits towards degrees. However, this bootstrap has still put our programs at a recruiting disadvantage.

Parents and young men and women want a college education.  Our modern apprenticeship programs provide an education that is every bit as challenging and worthwhile as that provided by many community colleges, and they combine that with on-the-job pay and training. There is no reason these programs should not be accredited. Indeed, three of our local apprenticeship programs - in Philadelphia, Minnesota and Las Vegas - have recently achieved accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education, and four more are going through the accreditation process at this time. 

The IUPAT also worked with the building trades to create a consortium of skilled trades who are interested in moving in this direction.  The COE process, however, is lengthy and expensive. Grants to aid this conversion would materially increase the pace of progress toward the goal of universal accreditation. The value conferred on individuals is enormous. With accreditation, they can earn while they learn, and they can obtain a college degree without the incurring debt.

Conclusion:

The needs of tomorrow's workforce require us to adapt proven programs. The IUPAT is working with our employers, industry partners and members to ensure that our training meets the needs of the market place; the delivery of that training meets the needs of the apprentice and journey worker. With apprenticeship programs driving skills training, we can meet the fill the current and any future workforce needs. The US Government's procurement process can help accelerate the number of apprenticeship slots available and in doing so can continue to drive the apprenticeship system to continue to be driven by market and technological changes happening in the industries and workforce they serve.

Chair Lipnic and distinguished Commissioners I look forward to answering your questions and continuing this discussion, which is critical for our economic competitiveness, the future of our workforce and the quality of the communities we live and work.


Footnotes

i Owens, T. (2015). NABTU. Retrieved from http://www.bctd.org/Newsroom/Blogs/Presidents-Message/November-2015-%281%29/It-s-National-Apprenticeship-Week-And-Nobody-Does.aspx

ii Owens, T. (2015).

iii Owens, T. (2015).

iv Consus.gov. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/construction/c30/historical_data.html

v BEA. (2017, 3 27). www.bea.gov. Retrieved from https://www.bea.gov/regional/rims/rimsii/illustrativetables.aspx

vi Statistics, N. C. (2013). CTE. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=43