Unions step up recruiting
After years in which they were cautious about bringing on apprentices who might not be able to find work, the construction trade unions in northern Nevada are stepping up their recruiting.
UA Local 350, which represents plumbers and pipefitters, has recruited about 30 apprentices in the past year, says Training Coordinator Randy Canale, and it’s continuing to look for more to make a long-term commitment to the trade.
“We’re bringing them in for a career, not a job,” says Canale.
Keeping the right number of apprentices in training programs is a tricky proposition.
Apprentices work during the day, earning wages that begin at $13 an hour for plumbers, $14 for cement masons or nearly $19 an hour for ironworkers.
At nights and weekends, apprentices take classroom instruction, and credit for that work often can be used as the basis for a community college degree.
Because much of the training occurs on jobsites, unions’ apprenticeship coordinators are wary of enrolling apprentices who won’t be able find consistent work — and the recession dried up many of the opportunities for newcomers to learn a trade.
On the other hand, employers want to be sure that they can draw on experienced apprentices and journey-level workers as they land new contracts.
Alan Darney, training director at the Northern Nevada Electrical Training Center, says employers who hire union electricians are keeping a close eye on the pipeline of skilled workers as building activity begins to rebound at the same time that contractors are handling work at Nevada’s mines.
Canale puts it this way: “You can’t hire a third-year apprentice. You have to develop a third-year apprentice.”
But because apprentices often enter programs in their mid-20s — recent high school graduates are fairly rare — the unions cast a wide net to spread the word.
Eleven trade unions banded together as the Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association work have developed combined efforts to recruit apprentices.
Bobbi Lazzarone, who contracts with the association to spearhead recruitment efforts, reaches potential applicants for apprenticeship programs through Nevada JobConnect offices, career fairs and meetings with high school counselors.
Her message: “They’re earning something while they’re learning something.”
In many instances, Darney says, the seeds of an apprenticeship message planted in a high school senior will blossom a few years later, when the young worker begins to understand the value that health benefits and pensions add to a solid pay package.
Targeted programs to reach specific minority groups for apprenticeship programs have paid fruit, Darney says, but the unions continue to struggle to draw women applicants.
Apprenticeship recruiters also continue to struggle to overcome the perception that union construction jobs, while high-paying, carry the threat of seasonal layoffs.
Seasonal layoffs are far less common than days past, Canale says, and most construction jobs continue year-round.
The Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association also gets the word out through its Web site, http://www.buildingtradejobs.org.
Participating labor organizations include Construction Craft Laborers, Electricians, Heat and Frost Insulators, Ironworkers, Operating Engineers, Painters and Allied Trades, Plasterers and Cement Masons, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Sheet Metal Workers and Sationary Engineers. In, NV Energy participates to recruit apprentices for its company-sponsored program.
Gov. Steve Sisolak made it clear Wednesday night his latest directive urging as many Nevadans as can to stay home is not martial law but a plea for everyone not in a critical, essential industry to not go out and possibly spread the coronavirus.