by Phil Yacuboski
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate went up slightly in November at 4.2 percent as the number of job seekers grew and payroll shrank. It’s the first time there’s been a month-to-month increase since mid-2016 and in an effort to expand the job market and increase marketability of young people, Governor Tom Wolf wants to make apprenticeships a key component of the job market.
“In today’s job market, we’re seeing incredible demand for all skilled workers in the trades in southeast Pennsylvania all across the commonwealth,” Governor Wolf said in announcing a program that will expand apprenticeships in Philadelphia and Delaware County.
The program offsets the cost of tuition expenses paid by students. It also helps pay for classroom materials like smartboards, books and shop materials.
And while that’s good news for some, several programs in our area receive no help from the state.
“We offer an apprenticeship program that is free at no cost to the apprentice,” said Drew Simpson, program coordinator for the Carpenters and Joiners Local 445 in Scranton. He said the money comes from dues paid by members thanks to the collective bargaining agreement. “We have no state money. It’s all paid for by us.”
The apprenticeship programs typically last four years and apprentices receive 32 credit hours towards an associate’s degree. The training program is through Lebanon Community College.
“Our apprentices start out a 50 percent of the journeyman’s rate, so many of them make around $14 an hour and they get raises during their time,” he said adding that in their third year, they make 75 percent of a journeyman’s rate with the fourth year at 90 percent. “Health care is included with the program too.”
Simpson said to spread the word about the program, they meet with students the technical colleges in the area as well as speaking at career days to promote interest. The only requirement is that you have a high school diploma or G.E.D.
Simpson, who had no knowledge of the carpentry trade, learned everything he knew through his own apprenticeship program.
“You don’t need to have any skill,” he said. “We will train you and teach you everything you need to learn.”
Most of the jobs are in the commercial field.
“We’re building schools, power plants and hospitals,” said Simpson.
The grants are a part of Governor Wolf’s PA Smart Initiative, which aims to cut red tape, expand job training and improve coordination between state agencies in helping people get the skills they need to compete in today’s job market. The governor’s office said it hopes to expand the program to more parts of the state.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there’s been a 42 percent growth in apprenticeships since 2013; there are about a half-million apprenticeships currently across the United States with the number at around 16,500 in Pennsylvania.
“I think this is a good thing because for students who come out of high school who don’t want to go to college, they get great experience and a good job with great benefits,” said Michael Brust, apprenticeship coordinator with the Scranton IBEW Local 81. “Most apprenticeship programs like ours, is that they are tuition free and most people don’t know that.”
Much like the carpenter’s union, members fund the apprenticeship program; it does not use state funding.
Brust said the benefits are many.
“You never lose what you learn by what you do with your hands,” he said. “That skill is always there and you’ll always have it for the rest of your life. You never lose it.”
He also cited health benefits and retirement, which are well funded.
Brust said there’s been full employment by members for the past three years.