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My Friend, Maggie
Posted on June 12, 2009 by Thao Nelson
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A Message from Jennifer Murphy, Our Featured Apprentice-


My friend, Maggie, just became an apprentice.  She started work three weeks ago and is in the Transportation Systems program.   Their crew is responsible for traffic signals, street lighting, and citation cameras.  (I try not to hold this against her.)  When I found out they were hiring for this program, and I knew that Maggie was looking for work I convinced her to apply.  The job description looked tough. At every step of the application process everyone looked surprised that she would want to do this kind of work.  They kept saying, “There will be 90 pound jackhammers.  Can you operate a 90 pound jackhammer?”  I was confident this would be no hurdle for her; Maggie and I had played rugby together for years.  She is 5’11” and can easily pick me up and swing me around.  And, well... I weigh a little more than 90 pounds myself.

The Transportation Systems workers work outdoors every day, but not in some kind of granola outdoors... they are working in Los Angeles traffic.  Surrounded by orange cones and delineators, working in ditches and vaults, breathing car exhaust fumes, under the scorching sun. 

I was so nervous!  I want things to go well for her, not only because she is my friend, but because I dragged her into this!

When Maggie found out she had been accepted and would be starting work soon we were all so excited.  I supervised her selection of boots and tools, and made her get high quality stuff.  I didn’t want to see her spending weeks in agony with aching feet, or hauling around junky tools.  I call Maggie almost every day to ask how it’s going, how she is getting along with the guys, are they teaching her everything, have there been a lot of 90 pound jackhammers...

Of course I have no reason to worry; Maggie is in a program just like mine where qualified professionals teach her everything she needs to know, and more.  Right now her crew is pulling wires and fiber optics cables off of big reels and into the conduits under the sidewalk from one access box to another about 1000 feet away.  Everyone has to work together as a team, and communicate and time the pulls properly.  Their crew is smooth and efficient. 

I get so excited to see my friends and loved ones succeed! 

I was recently flattered to learn that my sister has been impressed enough with my experience with apprenticeship that she has decided to find her own apprenticeship!  For years I’ve seen apprenticeship as an excellent option for Paula, but as a single parent she felt she couldn’t make an apprentice her top priority while her kids were still so young and needed so much of her time.  Now finally the time has come, and I wish I could be there with her in Pasco, sorting through the apprenticeship possibilities with her, trying to imagine the direction her life will take!

It all reminds me of my early days in the trade.  The guys took one look at me and knew I was new.  They could tell because my tools were all clean and  new and shiny.  They thought I should rub dirt on all my tools so I would look like I knew what I was doing.  But I was glad to have everyone know I was new because I wanted to learn from them.  Everyone had advice for me.  “Don’t loan out your tools to anyone but electricians!” “Put THESE tools in your pouch handles up and THESE tools handles down!” “Never walk anywhere--even the bathroom-- with your hands empty” “Always have two ways to get to work and get to work at least 15 minutes early” “Wire stretchers, and fluorescent tube benders don’t exist.  If someone asks you to go get one they are trying to make you look stupid.  Also there is no free tool at the bottom of a bucket of wire lubricant, so don’t reach your arm in when someone tells you you can have it.”

It seems like so long ago, and it’s incredible how much I’ve learned since then.  I already love passing along advice to Maggie.  I can’t wait to give advice to Paula, too.  Even if she gets into an apprenticeship that has nothing to do with my own trade, I’m sure I’ll think of SOMETHING essential I can offer.  That’s what sisters are for!


Even though there's a downturn in construction right now, many building trades unions are using this slow spell to be proactive and find ways to provide training for members in "green skills" to build career pathways for the green economy.  The California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, (CLF) and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC) are partners in an innovative project which is preparing for the green surge by Building Green Careers.

With a contract from the state Employment Training Panel, the CLF and the SBCTC have targeted the building trades that will be most affected by the green economy.  These include electricians who will set up solar power systems; plumbers who will install water-saving, environmentally friendly appliances; sheet metal workers who will service more fuel-efficient air systems; and iron workers who are installing wind turbines.  Currently, there are minimal green certifications implemented in these industries. By being strategic, and training the workers now, the Labor Federation and the Council hope to lead the green movement by having the training in place before green certification becomes required. Training is geared to journey workers, who will in turn pass on their knowledge on the job to apprentices.

AB32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, has implications for construction, energy generation, ventilation, and air conditioning businesses.  With at least five other recently enacted laws on the books that directly affect the trades and their ability to "work green," plus new technologies, and the growing interest among builders to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, the curriculum focuses on three key areas as determined by employer business needs and input from union representatives.  Commercial Skills training covers energy-efficient technologies and products, along with new safety skills.  Computer Skills training includes blueprint modification, computerized systems adjustment, AutoCAD, and project planning software. Business Skills gives workers the tools to plan, organize, and manage their construction projects, team-building and leadership skills, and figuring out green solutions in traditional work environments.

The 12 JATCs participating in the project, which started in January 2009, include six IBEW locals, two from the United Association, two Cement Masons locals, one Laborers JATC, and one Plasterers program.  Besides craft-specific upgrade training, workers from participating JATCs will also attend a "Green Industry" course which touches on the impact of the green economy on their work, and how to prepare for the changes that are in store.  There's a learning component for contractors on preparing the workforce for green building projects.  A video is also in the works that features project participants telling their own stories about their green skills training, and what they see as the future of the green construction industry.

While there's a lot of talk these days about creating new green jobs, we know that green jobs are already here, and construction workers have been performing many of these jobs for decades. Green jobs aren't just in solar and wind generation, either, as we can see from the participation of the Plumbers, Cement Masons, Laborers, and Plasterers.  By leveraging the negotiated funds in the JATCs, and public funds such as ETP, our journey workers and apprentices can have a head start on making sure they're prepared for the new technologies, products and certifications that will usher in the green collar economy.

Are there similar programs in your area that leverage different sources of funds for green skills training?  How are apprentices and journey workers meeting the challenges of new green technologies and products in construction, energy generation, and other industries?   


The DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy and ETA’s Office of Apprenticeship have

announced the availability of approximately $400,000 to fund cooperative agreements to conduct

two pilot projects to develop models to improve systems capacity to provide inclusive Registered

Apprenticeship training and pre-apprenticeship training to youth and young adults with disabilities

Under this initiative, funding will be awarded through a competitive process to two consortia to

research, test, and evaluate innovative systems models for providing inclusive integrated

apprentice training in a high-growth industry to youth and young adults with disabilities,

including those with the most significant disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 27. To be

considered for an award, consortium applying for the grant must have representation from

each of the following four organization types:

1. A Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) sponsor in a high-

growth industry sector;

2. A community-based organization (CBO) with demonstrated

experience securing job training services from established training

institutions such as community colleges, and providing placement and

support services to apprentices in high-growth industries;

3. A public/private non-profit or for-profit organization, which

may be faith-based, with demonstrated experience providing employment

and training services and employment related support services to people

with disabilities; and

4. An educational institution.

The solicitation in the June 16 FEDERAL REGISTER provides background information, describes the

application submission requirements, outlines the process that eligible entities must use to apply

for funds covered by this solicitation, and outlines the evaluation criteria used as a basis for selecting

the grantees.

I recently attended,and presented a session ,at the Eastern Seaboard Apprenticeship Conference (ESAC) in Boston Massachusetts.  My presentation happened to be on the Revised Federal Regulations 29-29.  Conferences such as this are invaluable for gathering information and sharing best practices in apprenticeship.  I remember when every region of the country would have such conferences, but because of budget restraints and consolidation of such apprenticeship entities as different facits of organized labor, the attendance went down and the in some areas have cancelled the conference.  There are many states that now have thier own conferences,which again can be an excellent way to gain knowedge about what's going on in the apprenticeship arena, especially in those states where there is a need to expand and integrate the Workforce Investment Act segment into registered apprenticeship.  I find that communication about what apprenticeship is and how it works can go a long way when success stories and best practices are shared.  Some states Departments of Education  give in service training credits for attendance to some of these confernce sessions. It seems odd to me that there are some states out there that have embraced apprenticeship and work well in integrating apprenticeship and workforce boards and there are others that barly speak.  These gatherings such as Eastern Seaboard, Southern States,  and Rocky Mountain apprenticeship conference can do so much to expand apprenticeship if those managing and attending would open up to others who can help support the concept of registered apprenticehip.  Some feel that registered apprenticeship is "owned" by the Government (State or Federal) but in fact, it is a voluntary system with ownership by the apprenticeship sponsors, apprentices, labor and management.  If you have any thoughts on this, please post. 

My apologies for this time-delayed second installment of my in-depth ESAC coverage (I’m sure you’ve been waiting with baited breath for it, haven’t you?).  It’s amazing how quickly time can get away from me.  The ESAC was no exception, because this weeklong conference seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.


The Eastern Seaboard Apprenticeship Conference held in Boston had many wonderful highlights, a few of which I noted in my first installment of the ESAC Diaries.  I can’t begin to cover them all here, unfortunately, so I’ll touch on a few of the more notable ones.


For me, the highlights were not necessarily all of the presentations (although a few of them were), it was a combination of factors - the conversations, networking, and information sharing that took place among the attendees, not to mention the various backdrops for such conversations.


A major focus of the conference was green jobs.  There has been a lot of talk throughout state and federal stakeholders about “The Greening of Apprenticeship” (not to mention the talking heads on the 24 hour news networks), and how this new industry is going to create many new jobs, particularly with apprenticeship programs.  There is a huge push for developing this industry through the Recovery Act, and a good number of grant opportunities are going to be made available to support this push, and ultimately, the economy.


But (isn’t there always a “but”?), do you know what apprenticeship program sponsors are gossiping about around the water cooler?  They’re saying that this new green initiative won’t actually create that many, if any, new apprenticeship jobs.  (Insert pregnant pause here.)  Huh?


Yes, you read that correctly.  The general consensus among program sponsors and state directors is that we are not going to see that many new jobs created from green occupations being developed.  The word on the street is that the occupations we already have will simply need to incorporate, if they haven’t already, additional instructional modules to teach the skills and knowledge necessary for greening efforts.  There will be very few occupations that are specifically “green.”  Think about it for a minute.  For more than 100 years, the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators have been saving energy, long before “green” became the new hot buzzword, and their work has become even more relevant today.  In Louisiana, the New Orleans & Baton Rouge Asbestos Workers JAC have been rigorously developing apprentices for many decades in energy savings, because they specialize in the insulation of commercial and industrial systems that require a specific temperature to be maintained at all times.  Improper insulation leads to substantial energy losses.  What could be more of a green effort than proper insulation?


Anyway, it will be very interesting to see how all of these “green” efforts and initiatives develop over the next few years.  One thing is for certain.  Al Gore is sitting back in his chair with a smile on his face right now that says, “I told you so!”  He threw down the green gauntlet several years ago, when the general population didn’t really care.  My, how times have changed.  Now every industry conference across the country has a subtitle with the word “green” in it, despite the fact that not many people have a good grip on what exactly “green” means yet.


One of the more notable presentations I attended was led by Mary Sullivan, an attorney with the labor and employment law firm of Segal Roitman LLP out of Boston. It was quite the eye opener for some of us, myself included.  She sat down with us and fielded questions. . . and questions. . . and more questions. . . until she probably felt like sending us a bill for her consulting services.  We could ask her anything we wanted to know, and I can assure you, there was never a shortage of raised hands.  She touched on everything from the new federal regulations to data security. The subject of particular interest to me was concerning undocumented workers.  Talk about a hot topic!  Should program sponsors ask for documentation of citizenship and work status for individuals who don’t appear to be native to this country?  Should they put students through the I-9 verification process? Here in Sportsman’s Paradise, this issue continues to be raised on a fairly regular basis. 


Ms. Sullivan’s answers may surprise you.  I certainly was about some of them. Her response, in a nutshell – Don’t do it!!!!  There is no legal requirement for an apprenticeship program to take on these responsibilities, but it is the responsibility of the employers to do so.  If a program sponsor does take these on, then you’re acting on behalf of the employer, as their “agent,” or even as an actual employer – and opening yourself up to significant criminal and civil liabilities.  In addition, if you ask for these documents for a few, then you have to ask it of everyone that is accepted into the program.  Word to the wise:  If you’re brazen enough to ask for documentation, don’t ever ask for it during the application process, only after they’ve been accepted into the program and offered employment.


At this point, you might be wondering, “This is all fine and good, but none of this seems related to the title ‘Feed Them and They Will Come.’ Does no one proofread these before posting them?”  Well, I was about to get to that. . .


Anyone who knows me well knows I love to eat.  When I am invited to events, my first thought is usually whether or not there will be food.  I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years, so I feel I can make the following statement with a certain degree of authority:  The Eastern Seaboard Apprenticeship Conference knows how to treat their attendees.  It was, by far, the most impressive of its kind that I have ever participated in.  Many thanks and kudos should go to the ESAC 2009 Planning Committee, their conference coordinator, Elaine Cadigan, and the many sponsors who made it all possible.  You would not believe the top-shelf events, food and drink that we were indulged in.  Full breakfasts, snack breaks (which included the most sinful cookies, not those dry, crumbly kinds normally served), a LobsterFest at the JFK Museum, a Taste of Boston Reception with phenomenal food and open bar, and their 65th Anniversary Celebration upon the Odyssey cruise ship, sailing the Boston Harbor and enjoying a fantastic night view of the city – while feasting on a scrumptious dinner.  Folks, it doesn’t get any better than that!  On behalf of conference attendees everywhere, I ask those of you who are involved in meeting and event planning to please take note.  No more rubber chicken and luke warm food!  The ESAC has set the bar very high.


If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend this conference next year, I highly recommend it.  The panel discussions were excellent and useful, the food was unbelievable, and the networking opportunities were invaluable.