Union apprenticeship programs reduce inequalities in the construction industry

Union apprenticeship programs reduce inequalities in the construction industry

Vancouver-SW Washington Business Journal

May 9, 2022

Construction is the third fastest growing industry in the Northwest, and union-led apprenticeship programs are empowering women and people of color to build skillsets to join the industry.

According to a 2021 research study conducted by Dr. Larissa Petrucci through the University of Oregon’s Labor Education & Research Center, union apprenticeship programs are leading in diversity and showing higher success rates all around compared to non-union programs, especially for women and people of color.

Petrucci found that women and people of color are significantly more likely to complete their programs in a union apprenticeship compared to a non-union apprenticeship. They are more than twice as likely to enter a high-wage trade if they go through a union apprenticeship program. More specifically, 46% of women in union programs enroll in trades with an average hourly wage of $40 or higher, compared to 19% in non-union programs.

Sonda Brown, a first-term apprentice with IBEW Local 48, found her way to the construction industry after working a desk job.

“Before joining the apprenticeship program, I worked in an office setting as a Project Manager,” Brown said. “After a few years, I grew tired of the monotonous job duties and wanted something different.”

After considering her mechanical skills and researching alternative career options, Brown decided to pursue a career path as an electrician, but first needed to learn the trade at an affordable price. That’s when she found NECA-IBEW, its Electrical Training Center, and union-led apprenticeship program.

“I was most intrigued that our union and Training Center share similar values as I do,” Brown said. “It has a reputation for integrity and fostering unity and diversity in the electrical industry while emphasizing productivity to meet our customers’ needs.”

While most of the state’s construction apprentices have been enrolled in union programs (72% between 2011-2020), those without unions face more program incompletions, less diversity in gender and ethnicity, and ultimately less positive community impact.

As Brown says, “Having a quality education lays the groundwork for being successful within our field, and a part of that is also the perceived value and overall satisfaction of the apprentices.”

Overall, Petrucci found that “unions play an important role in reducing gender and race discrimination,” and without them, women and BIPOC workers will continue to face persistent barriers in the industry.