The following post is from Maya Gillett, Washington State Coalition Organizer.
The federal government is making unprecedented investments in the clean economy—and Washington is about to witness what clean energy advancements and lower-carbon building materials can do for our state. As the country prepares to implement these policies, we must consider the following critical questions: how do we ensure there are enough people to perform this work and that federal funding creates high-road jobs for these new workers?
Our strategy includes, among other things, apprenticeships. On a rainy October Thursday in Tukwila, WA, BlueGreen Alliance Washington held their Apprenticeships 101 workshop. Members of several prominent environmental and climate advocacy groups, along with representatives of key trade unions, met to learn about the role of apprenticeships in building Washington’s skilled, clean energy workforce.
Workshop attendees saw firsthand how registered apprenticeships are crucial tools in the clean economy as companies staff new projects with qualified workers. While ensuring the support and funding of these programs is often the cornerstone of union policy agendas, education is needed on how these programs benefit our communities’ initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels. Registered apprenticeships will play a key role in Washington’s ability to meet our ambitious climate goals, while ensuring workers have access to the safe, good-paying union jobs they deserve.
Union training staff shared that apprenticeships and their role in workforce development are often misunderstood. Some may picture a glorified internship for people who weren’t “college-bound.” However, registered apprenticeships are extremely rigorous post-secondary education programs, with competitive application processes and first-time acceptance rates that rival many elite colleges. A registered apprenticeship is a paid position that can last anywhere from 3-5 years, and combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction in a trade. Workers who complete apprenticeships are good problem-solvers; have strong quantitative reasoning skills; pay rigorous attention to detail; must remain highly focused for many hours at a time; and have the ability to learn and retain thousands of highly specific protocols. The demand for these highly skilled workers—including high-voltage lineworkers, industrial metal workers, pipefitters, and electricians—is expected to skyrocket in the coming years with a much-anticipated “silver wave” of retirements. As many as 75 million Americans are nearing retirement age, creating the potential for a massive labor shortage around the country.
- Good problem-solvers
- Strong quantitative reasoning
- Rigorous attention to detail
- Highly focused for many hours at a time
- Ability to learn and retain thousands of highly specific protocols
To make our clean energy aspirations a reality, Washington needs the skilled tradespeople we’ve relied on for centuries—like utility workers, pipefitters and electricians—to guarantee the clean energy coming from areas throughout Washington makes it safely to our homes and businesses. Union apprenticeship programs build workers’ skills on the job, equipping them with career-long knowledge they’ll need in the rapidly evolving clean energy economy.
One of the BlueGreen Alliance’s core beliefs is that the expertise of union workers is vital to growing the clean economy. Communities and workers need a healthy environment and safe, dignified work that pays a family-sustaining wage. Many of the environmental advocates attending the workshop wanted to gain a fuller understanding of how apprenticeship programs work, while union leaders heard from those directly working to reduce carbon emissions. This forum of education and open-minded conversation represents our commonalities—often lost in the overly-simplified narratives of politics—and steps we can take to build a shared vision. When our unions and environmental groups have a shared understanding of the future we deserve, there is very little we can’t accomplish.
Maya Gillett is the Washington State Coalition Organizer at BlueGreen Alliance. Read her bio here.