For over 80 years, the federal Registered Apprenticeship Programs in the building trades have provided comprehensive training to meet the complex, specialized and diverse needs of contractors and projects. The federal government guarantees their quality. In contrast, IRAPs will legitimize substandard "apprenticeship programs" based on questionable standards without any government oversight. Companies will claim their workers were trained to perform tasks they weren’t. Construction industry is already experiencing issues with companies knowingly forging documents and presenting fake qualification cards to win work. IRAPs will legitimize such unscrupulous employers who don’t want to invest in proper training and take shortcuts.
IRAPs don’t belong in highly hazardous industries like construction.
Many aspects of the building trade tasks such as electric work, heating and air, ironwork, welding, fall protection and pipe fitting, are highly specialized. They require specific training and expert workers to complete safely. Structures can collapse without proper welding by ironworkers. If pipes are not welded properly, they could leak poisonous gas or explode. Electrical fires and explosions can occur from improperly installed electrical work and the list goes on.
As someone who has worked on both union and non-union projects in his 26-year career as an ironworker, I can attest to the fact that there’s a huge difference between safe work environments where workers were trained through the federal apprenticeship programs in the building trades and unsafe environments where training standards are arbitrary and deficient. I stared death in the face many times working in such unsafe job sites with deficient training and safety standards. I was put to work on electrical tasks when I didn’t have any training in electric work and had no idea how to do it. I suffered two falls from lack of fall protection on those job sites. I have scars on my hands from a forklift accident when they had me operate a forklift without any training at the age of 18!
No one should be allowed to write their own random standards for apprenticeship programs or take training shortcuts in a highly dangerous industry without any oversight.
IRAPs in the construction industry would defeat the very purpose of apprenticeship programs. The premise of apprenticeship programs is to create and maintain the highest safety and quality standards with standardized curriculum under expert oversight. What’s the point of an apprenticeship program if we let anyone create random standards without supervision?
The construction industry already has a time-tested, accredited, federal Registered Apprenticeship system with the highest standards that never failed to meet its specialized needs for almost a century. IRAPs will not only jeopardize standards in the construction industry, putting workers and customers at risk, but also endanger the public who use the buildings and infrastructure the workers build. IRAPs have no place in the construction industry and the construction industry should be permanently excluded from it.
Dave Baker is the business manager of Iron Workers Local 44 in Cincinnati.