A recent letter to the editor from John Mielke of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin made the argument that Gov. Scott Walker has been the biggest cheerleader for apprenticeship throughout Wisconsin, and he closes his piece by claiming “we should not distort reality.” Unfortunately, he did just that. The fact is, Walker is not the education and training governor.
Walker’s short-sighted plan to expand youth apprenticeship to students who are unable to participate in youth apprenticeship’s on-the-job training will only serve to reduce the value of youth apprenticeship. The Wisconsin Building Trades support the expansion of youth apprenticeship when done carefully and as a stepping stone to a registered apprenticeship when a person reaches the age of 18. But the more practical way to expose Wisconsin students to trade and technical careers is to actually fund K-12 education, specifically industrial-arts and technical-education programs in middle school and high school .
Wisconsin’s school districts have seen their funding cut so badly during Walker’s time in office that they have repeatedly have had to go to local referenda – including this November where more than $1.4 billion is being requested for approval by local voters – to continue to provide quality educational programming for our kids.
And it is not just K-12 funding that is affecting pathways to construction careers, but also cuts in funding for Wisconsin’s technical-college system. Technical colleges provide instruction for a number of registered apprenticeship programs. Walker’s cuts to technical college funding across the state hurts apprenticeships.
Wisconsin’s Building Trades Unions, through our labor-management JAC apprenticeship programs, have been an industry leader in providing a pathway to a career in the building and construction trades. These are privately funded programs that collectively spend more than $30 million annually on apprenticeship training, which is beneficial to both workers and contractors (our employer partners).
However, our cooperative workforce-training model is facing significant pressure following the repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws, and other anti-worker measures. The prevailing-wage repeal, which coincidentally was supported by the Mielke and the ABC, will have the long-term harmful effect of reducing wages for all construction workers – union and non-union alike – which will in turn reduce our ability to pay for our privately funded apprenticeship programs.
All of these short-sighted policies from Walker have occurred during a time of significant expansion for apprenticeships throughout Wisconsin. Since 2009, we have seen the addition of 1,830 more apprentices. According to the data collected by DWD, our JAC programs added 95 percent of those 1,830 registered apprentices to the construction industry, providing a life-long career ladder.
We look forward to working with the Evers Administration to continue to help expand apprenticeship opportunities and pursue workforce-development policies that make the most of private investment and support Wisconsin workers.
Dave Branson is president of the Wisconsin Building Trades Council