Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st-NJ) recently introduced the bill “Pre-Apprenticeships to Hardhats Act,” (“PATH” Act, H.R. 6820) to direct the U.S. Secretary of Labor to support development of pre-apprenticeship programs in building and construction that serve underrepresented populations, including those from low-income and rural census tracts.
Norcross, an electrician by trade who went through the IBEW apprenticeship program, intimately understands the apprenticeship system. Introducing legislation for a pre-apprenticeship program is the next step in helping apprenticeship programs offer more career opportunities and skilled workers to contractors, particularly in light the current workforce shortage.
Pre-apprenticeship programs are designed to prepare individuals to enter and succeed in registered apprenticeship programs. The legislation would provide grants to assist in the creation and sustenance of pre-apprenticeship programs that serve racial minorities, women, the long-term unemployed, and people from impoverished census tracts.
The bill would allow the U.S. Department of Labor to issue grants on a competitive basis to eligible programs by paying the government’s cost of carrying out these development projects. Initial grants would be for up to three years, and if a program shows a satisfactory performance, it could be extended for an additional year.
Nonprofit partnerships such as labor organizations, including joint labor/management training programs like SMACNA and SMART’s joint apprenticeship programs, would be eligible to receive grants. To qualify for a grant, the apprenticeship program must demonstrate experience in implementing and operating worker skills training and education programs, identify and involve in-training programs under the grant, target populations that would benefit from the training, and be actively engaged in in the building and construction trades.
The PATH Act would complement the “Helping America Re-Develop High-Quality Accessible Training Act,” (“HARD HAT” Act, H.R. 6693). The legislation would train the workforce through apprenticeship programs and bar federal agencies from awarding certain construction contracts unless the contractor agrees to require at least 20 percent of their non-management employees to complete or be enrolled in a Department of Labor-recognized Registered Apprenticeship Program. This applies to contracts of $1.5 million or more for the construction or resurfacing of highways, roads, streets, bridges, or railways, and the building of tunnels, waste facilities, and public buildings.
While the PATH Act targets underrepresented populations, this is not a new concept for SMACNA apprenticeships. Angie Simon, president of Western Allied Mechanical Inc., and SMACNA vice president, said both labor and management are focused on recruitment and have agreed to draw more workers from diverse backgrounds. “If you want to recruit someone – especially young people – you have to send someone that looks like them,” she noted.
Now with the introduction of the PATH Act supporting pre-apprentice programs, the industry would be able to provide more job opportunities for individuals who want to enter the construction trades.
SMACNA members can support this and other important legislation by contacting their members of Congress through SMACNA’s Take Action web page.