Union touts green jobs apprenticeship program listen05/28/09 Seán Kinane
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As hundreds of thousands of American workers lose their jobs every month, demand is increasing for programs that train workers in high tech fields. This is especially true for jobs in environmentally sustainable industries.
Today in east Tampa, a local union showed off its green job apprenticeship program to elected officials and members of the business, labor, and environmental communities.
The Joint Apprenticeship Program is a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW, Local 915, and the National Electrical Contractors Association, or NECA. Ken Brewer is one of their electrical instructors.
“[The] concept of apprenticeship is learning on the job, hands on training under the direction of journeymen.”
During Thursday’s open house, Brewer demonstrated some of the instruments he uses in training labs and he displayed textbooks on photovoltaic energy and other courses in electronics. “We have a five-year apprenticeship program.”
During those five years, apprentices work nearly full-time, 37 hours per week, and take a six-hour class one day per week. There is no cost for tuition, but apprentices pay for their textbooks. They work for contractors and are rotated to learn different skills and earn wages from the first day. David McCraw is the training director of the Tampa-area electrical apprenticeship program -- that he calls “earn while you learn.”
“And it’s good wages: starting wages are around $12 per hour.”
Funding for the program comes from a combination of union and public money, according to McCraw.
“We’re a union-sponsored program, so we’re part of a collective-bargaining agreement. … And we’re also partnered with the Hillsborough County school system, too.”
Mark Glausier is president of Glausier Electric, a contractor that employs workers in the apprenticeship program. The apprentices do industrial work on transformers, fiberoptics, and other technologies at a Mosaic phosphate mine site. Even though the apprentices he employs get off work three hours early one day per week to attend class, Glausier says the program helps his business.
“Oh yes, it’s very important for them to get the apprenticeship. That’s where they get the skills to be able to come out and produce the job that we need them to do.”
Florida State Representative Michael Scionti, a Democrat from Tampa, is pleased that the Barack Obama administration has recognized the importance of renewable energy-based green jobs and fuel efficiency. Representative Scionti says he hopes that Florida will use federal stimulus funding to usher in a green economy, such as through apprenticeship programs.
“Well, it’s an incredible opportunity for the business community.”
State Representative Keith Fitzgerald said that in the recently ended legislative session, quote, “The legislature let us down tremendously … we should have passed a renewable portfolio standard.” The Sarasota Democrat thinks that apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to take advantage of the economic downturn and “retool” for a better future.
“This is maybe the most important thing that is happening here in Florida. … There’s no reason why the Sunshine State can’t be the state that becomes a national leader in the production of green energy.”
There was no room in the current budget for more incentives for green technologies, according to State Representative Rich Glorioso. But Representative Glorioso, a Republican from Plant City, says he supports the apprenticeship program.
“Green jobs are our future, really.”
Democratic State Representative Bill Heller, who represents parts of Pinellas County, says that going green means having workers who are skilled in renewable energy fields.
“The future for jobs and so forth is going to be working with sustainable and renewable energy.”
St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton praised the home weatherization program in his city as well as green jobs training programs.
“We need to find ways of weaning ourselves off of some of these fossil fuels.”
Robert Armstead, with the League of Conservation Voters, hopes that federal legislation capping greenhouse gas emissions and mandating renewable energy production will pass this year. Armstead supports apprenticeship programs that are retraining the workforce for renewable energy technologies.
“It’s going to, one, retool our workforce towards our hardest hit sectors in the state, reeducate, and give them jobs.”