Friday, September 8, 2017

Putting people to work: Transportation, trades and community services team up for a win-win

By Ann Briggs

As our workforce ages and Baby Boomers continue to retire in droves, the transportation industry is struggling to fill positions with qualified, skilled tradespeople. These traditional “blue collar” jobs – including carpenters, welders, electricians, ironworkers, and masons – rank among top high-demand jobs that are hardest to fill.

At the same time, many capable young minority men, women and disadvantaged persons in urban communities face barriers and challenges to getting the education and skills training needed to hold living-wage jobs. Typical barriers for low income individuals trying to find better paying jobs are a lack of:
  • Reliable transportation
  • Gas money
  • Proper safety equipment and work boots
  • Language skills
  • Driver’s license

So how do we resolve these two needs? Enter a new program, Pre-Apprenticeship Support Services (or PASS for short), that brings together the state, highway construction industry and community services to give disadvantaged individuals in pre-apprenticeship programs the support they need to succeed. Authorized through the Connecting Washington transportation funding package, the PASS program is already showing great success in its startup phase.

In the past year, the PASS program has sponsored two training classes conducted by the Ironworkers Union, Local 86, in Tukwila. As part of the PASS program agreement, the union provides training through its certified apprenticeship program as well as job placement assistance for those who graduate. For the 28 individuals who completed the four-week training, 25 are now employed as ironworker apprentices, earning wages up to $25 per hour. They also have the potential for regular wage increases as they gain experience. These are people who were previously dependent on social programs; working multiple, low wage jobs; or unemployed.
People going through our PASS program train with the Ironworkers Union to
become the next generation of skilled trades workers.

While in the training program, community-support-services providers were there to help trainees by removing barriers that might have otherwise caused them to fail. For one person, it was getting funds to pay for driver’s training so they could get a license; for another, a gas card to help get them to and from training. Other PASS trainees received housing assistance that allowed them to cut back on their work schedule so they could attend training, and many trainees were provided required safety equipment in order to work.

Using this model, we’re expanding the PASS program in next phase and offering training classes for carpenters and cement masons, in addition to ironworkers.

As of August 2017, the state invested approximately $83,000, and in return the graduated ironworkers have earned total wages of $537,800. That’s money that supports their family, helps support their local economy and has reduced or eliminated their dependence on public assistance – a true win-win for Washington.