Last month, Associated Builders & Contractors held one of Wisconsin’s first-ever “Apprenticeship Signing Days,” replicating signing-day events that are held for high-performing student athletes recruited into four-year universities to play sports.
We highlighted a youth apprentice in carpentry and a recent high school graduate who committed to the trades by signing on as a registered adult apprentice.
The event celebrated how youth apprenticeship is expanding in Wisconsin. It has become a popular career pathway for high school students who want to try out specific hands-on careers and is a resource for individuals who decide they want to pursue construction apprenticeship.
Pathways for construction apprenticeship have continuously expanded under Gov. Scott Walker’s leadership, which is why I was puzzled after reading Dave Branson’s letter to the editor (“Walker’s apprenticeship plans too little too late,” Sept. 21). Branson, president of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council, expressed his support of the gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers by downplaying the governor’s record on this issue. Branson said the governor is “telling a new story that isn’t based in reality” regarding his support for youth and adult apprenticeship. He characterized the governor as only supporting the expansion of apprenticeship at re-election time.
Here’s the reality: Gov. Walker has shown more support for apprenticeship and careers in the skilled trades than any other governor in our lifetime.
Gov. Walker signed into law a bill that makes adult registered apprenticeship available to qualified high school seniors who want to get a head start on their careers. It’s similar to high school students taking advanced-placement courses for college (dual) credit.
Gov. Walker also signed a measure to change the skilled-worker-to-apprentice ratios to 1:1, which eliminates convoluted state rules and brings Wisconsin in line with many other states with similar ratios.
Both of these pieces of legislation expand the capacity for construction apprenticeship, opening doors for individuals who may otherwise have chosen different career fields and helping to curtail worker shortages in the construction industry. ABC of Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program, meanwhile, continues to set record enrollments, thanks to policies like these that effectively promote apprenticeship and fuel our economy.
Youth apprenticeship is also growing under Gov. Walker. More than 3,000 employers and 4,300 high school students participated in youth apprenticeships in the 2017-18 school year. Youth apprenticeship in architecture and construction increased 1,500 percent during the last four years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, which administers the program. In the four years before Gov. Walker’s taking office, youth apprenticeship in architecture and construction decreased by 45 percent.
Branson also stated, “Apprenticeships are not a union vs. non-union issue and I think we can all agree that apprenticeship training and journeyman skill are good for the construction industry.”
I agree, and I would add that it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, either. Everyone in our industry is benefited by policies that strengthen apprenticeship.
Gov. Walker has been supporting the expansion of youth apprenticeship, adult apprenticeship and the trades for many years, not just at election time, as Branson claimed. We should credit the governor for his desire to build on our many apprenticeship successes and for sharing his plans for the future.
At the very minimum, we should not distort reality.
– John Mielke is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin