Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA: 619-997-2495 or

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Apprenticeship training can meet 21st Century’s workforce needs – with help

This column originally appeared in the San Diego Transcript on May 24, 2018.

As many industries struggle to find employees prepared and qualified to fill job openings in the 21st Century workforce, apprenticeship programs are getting a fresh look as a cost-effective way to provide job training and prepare workers for a skilled career.

According to the newly released report from the national Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, apprenticeship programs provide employers with highly trained workers, but

the current apprenticeship pipeline in the United States doesn’t have sufficient capacity to address the growing skills gap in many industries, including the nation’s second largest employer – construction.

The U.S. Secretaries of Labor, Education, and Commerce led the presidentially appointed task force, created by executive order and composed of representatives from

industry, education, and government. The task force met to generate new ideas how to expand the role of apprenticeships, and help more individuals secure their career futures and achieve the American Dream. Its report was presented to President Donald Trump at a White House meeting on May 10.

The report identified strategies to promote apprenticeships in four major areas:

  • Federal initiatives to promote apprenticeships;

  • Administrative and legislative reforms that would facilitate the formation and success of apprenticeship programs;

  • The most effective strategies for creating industry-recognized apprenticeships;

  • The most effective strategies for amplifying and encouraging private sector initiatives to promote apprenticeships

Associated Builders and Contractors President and CEO Michael D. Bellaman participated as a task force member, serving on two of four subcommittees: those charged with attracting more business and industry to using the apprenticeship training model; and expanding access, equity, and career awareness.

As ABC San Diego’s current board chairman of the Apprenticeship Trust and the director of human resources for Helix Electric, the two dozen recommendations in the report address many of our greatest challenges in the construction industry, which has relied on the apprenticeship training model for decades as a source of skilled craft professionals. The recommendations include:

  • Expansion of work-and-learn models

  • National recognition and portability of credentials

  • Strategies for affordability

  • Greater industry and employer involvement

  • Streamlined program funding

  • Focus on areas of most acute skills shortage

  • Raise apprenticeship awareness

  • Eliminate operational inefficiencies

  • Implement industry-recognized apprenticeship programs

Apprenticeship opportunities suffer under Project Labor Agreements

The construction industry alone faces a critical shortage of 500,000 skilled professionals nationwide. Increasing the availability of apprenticeship training programs and expanding this model to multiple industries are important initiatives.

From my perspective here in the San Diego region on behalf of the educators and apprentices as well as the employers who hire apprentices, our apprenticeship programs will continue to fight for their rightful place without the support of high school educators, parents, and elected officials.

Apprenticeships provide training for up to 70 percent of the workforce in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Germany’s system is credited for the nation’s strength in maintaining a high quality manufacturing sector of its economy. Apprenticeship programs are expanding quickly in Ireland, Australia, and Great Britain.

But in the U.S., the focus remains on a traditional college degree. The federal government provides nearly four billion dollars annually in government support to college education programs. The ongoing budget to support and monitor the apprenticeship system nationwide is just $28 million annually.

Expanding federal and state tax credits for hiring and training apprentices to employers and increased funding for state level apprenticeship programs would go a long way in opening up career training opportunities that would grow businesses, jobs, and the economy as a whole.

There is another significant roadblock we must address. Apprenticeship opportunities suffer when policy makers deny merit shop trained apprentices the right to work on public works construction projects due to discriminatory practices such as Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Even when voters pass free and open competition initiatives, PLAs find their way into bond-funded projects. It denies individuals the right to work, and denies taxpayers the most efficient use of funding, limiting the number of projects which can be completed.

Most local formal programs, such as the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego’s Apprenticeship Training Trust program, are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and are governed by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards.

Apprentices must demonstrate mastery of complex material and skills, and dedicate themselves to a rigorous training program with near perfect attendance while working a full-time job. There is no group of people more proud of their accomplishments at graduation than the men and women who complete their training at the ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Training Academy. They not only gain a career, they gain the confidence to set goals and work toward them with a great deal of professional and personal satisfaction.

Dru Wells is Director of Human Resources at Helix Electric, and chairman of the ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Board of Trustees. For more information visit

ABCSD  I  13825 Kirkham Way Poway, CA 92064  I  Tel: 858.513.4700  I  Fax: 858.513.2373  I  I

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