Skill-of-Craft Apprenticeship and Journeyman Upgrading Training
Developing and maintaining a diverse and highly skilled construction labor workforce with the skill sets in sufficient numbers to successfully perform the many critical and time-sensitive construction projects in the greater Knoxville/Oak Ridge area, and in particular on the Oak Ridge Reservation, is a major challenge for the Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council (KBCTC) and the signatory Employers performing work in this area. The KBCTC is comprised of 16 affiliated individual craft unions covering the broad spectrum of construction trades as follows:
- Boilermakers Local Union # 454
- Millwrights Local Union # 1554
- Bricklayers Statewide Local Union # 8
- Operating Engineers Local Union # 917
- Carpenters Local Union # 50
- Painters Local Union # 437
- Cement Finishers Local Union # 148
- Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union # 102
- Electrical Workers Local Union # 270
- Roofers Statewide Local Union # 136
- Sheetmetal Workers Local Union # 5
- Insulators Local Union # 46
- Sprinkler Fitters Local Union # 669
- Ironworkers Local Union # 384
- Teamsters Local Union # 519
- Laborers Local Union # 818
In order to meet the responsibility to refer qualified workers to signatory employers for construction and D & D projects, each union must recruit, and then conduct substantive training programs for their members. These Apprenticeship and Training Programs have been in existence for many years and must meet very strict requirements for training which are annually certified by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship and Training. Each of the craft apprenticeship and training programs must, by law, be governed by a Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC) comprised of equal numbers of union and management representatives working together to develop and maintain the highest quality and integrity in the training programs. This training is self-funded by the craft and signatory employers through a set hourly contribution to the various apprenticeship programs that is deducted from the hourly wages of each construction employee representing that craft. Therefore, when a customer purchases the services of a signatory employer and the building trades unions, they can be assured that part of their payment for that service is being automatically channeled back into the training and development of future craft personnel.
The training programs require specified numbers of annual hours of classroom skills training at designated training facilities on the employee’s own time, combined with on-the-job employer paid work experiences that serve to develop the worker’s skill from apprentice to journeyman over a period of years depending upon the particular skill-at-hand. As stated, labor and management are engaged on the JATC’s to Recruit (Tab 3, “Craft Apprenticeship Requirements”), Train (Tab 2, “Craft Apprenticeship Training Standards”, and Retain (Tab 1, “Number of Active Craft Apprentices”) adequate numbers of craft apprentices to make available to signatory employers. The number of Apprentices is dependent on the amount of work available at the present time and the outlook for work in the future. The JATC’s are understandably conservative in their projections because they do not want to recruit and begin training, and then not be able to keep the apprentice reasonably gainfully employed.
Most of the crafts have multi-year apprenticeship programs as indicated in Tab 2, some of which take as much as 5 years to complete. The programs are rigorous and challenging, and, as stated earlier, are certified by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. This apprenticeship certification is attractive to employers and customers not only because it provides qualified and skilled craft workers via a certified process (in addition to being indoctrinated in safe work practices), but each program contains graduated wage rates for apprentices which allows the employers to pay less than journeyman scale for the trainees at the various stages of their craft training. Otherwise, without a certified and recognized apprenticeship program in place, any employee using the tools of a trade would have to be paid the journeyman wage rate on a federally funded construction project regardless of the lack of their formalized training in the craft, or length of service.
In addition to developing future craft workers, each of the KBCTC unions make available ongoing training for journeymen level employees to keep their skills up-to-date. A few such programs having received national recognition recently are the Fiber Optic Training by the IBEW, the Scaffold Builder and User Certifications Training by the Carpenters, and the Welding Certification Program by the Pipefitters, Sheetmetal Workers, and Ironworkers. (For employers that recognize these independently certified welding programs, there can be savings of from $3,500 to $5,000 per certified welder depending upon the certifications required). Additional cost savings for employers are realized in safety related certifications (e.g. hazardous worker training, 10 hour OSHA, asbestos and lead abatement, etc.).
The local unions affiliated with the KBCTC have made major investments in upgrading their training facilities and equipment. For example, the Carpenters Regional Council Training Facility on Bethel Valley Road is a 40,000 square foot state of the art facility that represents a seven figure investment and utilizes leading industry training techniques and equipment. In addition, the Sheetmetal Workers underwrote an expansion of their facilities and added several pieces of cutting edge equipment to better assist both apprentices and journeymen to enhance their skills. The IBEW has invested in construction of a new training facility in Knoxville, and a major renovation and upgrading of the training facility in Oak Ridge. The Operating Engineers have purchased a 125 acre farm between Knoxville and Chattanooga to allow their apprentices and journeymen the ability to have the area necessary for their unique training on heavy earth moving or excavation equipment, and to operate various pieces of hoisting equipment from Cherry pickers to tower cranes. Just a few examples of the willingness of the crafts to use their own funds to maintain the utmost quality of training for their members, and most of the training programs utilize computers to enhance their training activities.
In summary, the Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council and their affiliated unions, in partnership with the over 250 contractors signatory to the Construction Labor Agreement (Tab 4 “CLA Summary”) are working every day to keep themselves on the leading edge of skills training and upgrading. The CLA adds immeasurable value toward the cost effective provision of skilled labor and the quality performance of construction projects on the Oak Ridge Reservation. And, as a side benefit, many of the skilled craft workers employed by the Management and Operating Contractors on the Oak Ridge Reservation received their basic craft training through one of the certified building and construction trades apprenticeship programs prior to their employment. Therefore, support and use of the building trades and their apprenticeship and training programs makes great business sense now and for the future.