John Spaulding

It’s not surprising that a president who based his celebrity on a television reality show named “The Apprentice” would be supportive of apprenticeships. But it is encouraging President Trump is calling attention to a tried-and-true worker training program that is helping close the nation’s critical “skills gap” and creating good-paying careers.

The week of Nov. 13 is National Apprenticeship Week. It is an annual observation to promote the creation and support of apprenticeship training programs.

Two local events will be hosted in Bakersfield on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 14 and 15. They will highlight the need to prepare more workers for well-paying jobs in the skilled trades, and the opportunities that exist for young men and women, who are just beginning their careers.

The Kern Community College District, in partnership with local union building trade apprenticeship coordinators and the state Division of Apprenticeship Standards, will hold a Women in Trades and Student Apprentice Workshop at the NECA/IBEW Electrical Training Center on Sillect Avenue in Bakersfield.

Hundreds of area students and their instructors are expected to attend the events, which include panel discussions and hands-on demonstrations of a variety of trade crafts.

Trades that will be represented include: electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, carpenters, teamsters, operating engineers, cement masons and others.

While apprenticeships have long been viewed as a career launching platform for the trades, they now also are being eyed by the white-collar workforce as a way to create jobs and good-paying careers.

Apprenticeships, which are based on the realization that all good-paying jobs do not require a college degree and not everyone wants to go to college, have long enjoyed bipartisan support. In 2015, the Obama administration announced $175 million in apprenticeship grants to jump-start new programs. The Trump administration now is pledging to add between $105 million and $200 million to existing funds for apprenticeships. In June, the president signed an executive order and created a task force to expand the concept of apprenticeships.

In fact, National Building Trades President Sean McGarvey along with SMART (Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Transportation Workers) General President Joseph Sellers Jr., were recently appointed by Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to serve on the department’s newly created task force.

Privately funded local joint apprenticeship and training committees (JATCs) offer nationally recognized and certified programs that use state-of-the-art curricula. The Building Trades and their signatory contractors invest more than $1 billion annually in apprenticeship and journey-level training. This does not include the tens of millions invested by the JATCs in training facilities and equipment.

In Kern County, pre-apprenticeship programs vary widely, but generally last six to 12 weeks. They offer work skills, provide an overview of the construction trades and prepare participants to enter trades as apprentices.

To enter the building trades, a worker starts as an apprentice, who receives paid on-the-job training, with related classroom training and continuing education. Often college credit is given.

Participants in state-approved apprenticeship programs earn 40 percent or more of the prevailing wage paid in the area to start. This is about $12-$15 or more an hour, plus benefits. The rate increases each year until training is completed and a participant becomes a journeyman, earning about $28 or more an hour, plus health and pension benefits. Many trades pay in excess of $75 per hour when overtime is worked.

While Kern County is not currently experiencing a significant shortage of skilled trades’ workers, the likelihood of a shortage looms. Several major construction projects, including High-Speed Rail, Lake Isabella Dam Retrofit and large road projects are just a few of the developments expected to increase demand for workers.

We are in the recruiting phase to replace those who will be aging out as well as to meet the demand created by these new projects. In addition, solar and clean energy are expected to continue to be big job creators.

Kern County is growing. Through local apprenticeships, Kern County’s workforce of skilled trades people will grow and help shape the future.

John Spaulding of Bakersfield is the executive secretary of the Building Construction Trades Council.