The other four-year degree: Apprenticeship training holds key to energized New Jersey economy

During National Apprenticeship Week, Nov. 12-18, it is important to recognize that New Jersey – like the rest of the country – needs a highly skilled workforce to successfully tackle its vast infrastructure needs.

Today, across our state, there are many new industrial and public infrastructure projects, and more to follow. Projects like these bring with them valuable opportunities for New Jersey residents, especially because they are careers with good pay and benefits.

But does New Jersey have the highly skilled workforce ready and able to undertake today’s projects, much less the projects of tomorrow?

The answer is yes – New Jersey can supply the necessary skilled craft workforce for today and tomorrow.

And that is due to the on-going commitment and investment made by the New Jersey building trades unions and their signatory contractors to a robust and comprehensive skilled craft apprenticeship training infrastructure.

Apprenticeship training benefit the private and public sectors of our state by providing them with the most talented and qualified workforce in the world – more importantly, the graduates of these apprenticeships   are put squarely on a path to the middle class and toward achieving the American dream.

As these men and women are trained for careers in the construction industry, they receive good wages and benefits – and the training is free in our “earn-as-you-learn” programs, so graduates not only get paid while they learn a trade, but they also leave the program debt-free.

New Jersey’s building trades unions and our signatory contractors invest over $100 million dollars every year on training. That is private money, not taxpayer money, and it comes from the contributions made by our own members and our contractors who recognize the inherent value in needing to train the next generation of skilled craft professionals.

Additionally, our unions have recently placed 800 transitioning military veterans into our apprenticeship programs via the New Jersey “Helmets to Hardhats” program. Many of these transitioning military personnel are women and minorities.

We also have initiated the YTTW (Youth Transitions to Work) program across the state, whereby high school graduates who do not wish to go to a four-year college are exposed to a great career alternative.

Furthermore, individuals going through a building trades registered apprenticeship program can even transfer their apprenticeship training hours to college credits – in some cases, earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This is why our training is often regarded as “the other four-year degree.”

Today, the Building Trades Unions are making a concerted effort to ensure apprenticeship training opportunities empower historically underserved communities – including minorities, woman and transitioning veterans.

When President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan moves forward, skilled craft professionals from all trades will be in high demand.

Joining infrastructure investments, as well as private sector investments with the building trades’ world- class apprenticeship training will create pathways of opportunity for hardworking individuals all across our state.

As large construction projects move forward, we must continue investments in our workforce. These investments, coupled with strong standards – such as prevailing wage laws and community benefits agreements – ensure that the growing number of infrastructure projects help American workers thrive.

It’s simple: an investment in infrastructure is an investment in the American middle class.

William T. Mullen is president of the New Jersey Building & Construction Trades Council.