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New Jersey State Building & Construction Trades Council president Bill Mullen

Bill Mullen: Building Trades Unions Paving the Way for the Next Generation of NJ’s Construction Industry

By Bill Mullen, November 18 2022 11:39 am

OPINION

As National Apprenticeship Week is upon us on November 14-20, we must celebrate Garden State’s unique position as a leader and longtime union construction industry pioneer. Much of this success is due to the hand-and-glove partnership between the New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council (NJBCTC) and its allied contractors. These labor-contractor trusts are the foundation where labor and management invest time, money, and ingenuity to create and support world-class apprenticeship training programs with proven track records and a progressive eye toward innovation.

These private investments – funded exclusively by member and contractor contributions, not through taxpayer funds – regularly exceed $100 Million a year to support training. NJBCTC members sponsor comprehensive apprenticeship training and readiness programs in New Jersey. These programs provide a pathway for residents – focusing on women, people of color, and transitioning veterans – to gain access to Building Trades’ registered apprenticeship programs. State and local Building Trades Councils administer the programs, and they teach a variety of specialized curricula.

It is no secret that our members are the most highly skilled workers in the industry due to investments we have made in apprenticeship education and training for the last 100 years. We also know that strengthening pathways into this gold-standard system begins with expanding access to apprenticeship readiness programs. The impact of these programs is life-changing; they help boost secure, middle-class career pathways and ensure workers of all backgrounds. Workforce development is our core mission, and we welcome the opportunity to share our best practices.

Apprentices learn systems that enable young recruits to gain foundational, basic, and advanced building skills from the world’s most talented and knowledgeable training and education faculty. After receiving cutting-edge training, graduates of these apprenticeships are put squarely on a path to the middle class and toward achieving the American Dream as they venture outside the classroom to a construction site for on-the-job training and instruction. Ongoing efforts to recruit, train, and employ historically underserved communities – including minorities, women, and transitioning veterans – remain a high priority for our apprenticeship programs.

One such program, “Helmets to Hardhats,” connects transitioning active-duty military service members, veterans, National Guard, and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry. The program is designed to help military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the construction industry. Another program is in partnership with the New Jersey Department ofYouth Transitions to Work (YTTW) program. This program is designed to expose high school students to alternative career pathways to colleges, such as in one of the 15 building trades or crafts.

Beyond investments in maintaining a well-paid, highly skilled, and diverse union construction workforce, we must stay on top of innovation and technological advances throughout our industry. To make sure we have the most well-trained and highly skilled apprentices and journeymen and women, our apprenticeship programs are constantly updating curricula to incorporate the latest technological advancements and specialized and advanced training certifications; our state-of-the-art training centers provide our apprentices with the skills to handle the most complicated clean and alternate energy projects, skills that will be vital for the future of our industry.

The Building Trades recognizes its critical role in ensuring workers are treated fairly and setting precedents as early as our apprenticeship programs. The continued success of our recruitment and training programs depends upon our ability to call out deceptive apprenticeship programs that are unscrupulously set up to evade the law and exploit hardworking women and men in the construction industry. The NJDLWD needs to use its authority to crack down on contractors who use fraudulent apprenticeship programs that do not comply with federal law. Instead, these bogus programs help to drive down wages and workplace safety standards by promoting dangerously unprotected and prepared workers on construction sites.

As New Jersey continues to see substantial investment through efforts such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we must pay close attention to our construction workforce needs.

We must remain focused on innovation and stay on top of changing trends to help elevate a new generation of union construction apprentices. Our work today will ensure future apprentices continue to be the most skilled and well-trained. Today, we must continue to anticipate the challenges ahead to inspire the future workforce of tomorrow.

William T. Mullen is the President of the New Jersey Building & Construction Trades Council, representing over 150,000 rank-and-file members across 15 affiliated construction trades.

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