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Proving apprenticeship graduation rates

Suffolk County, in New York, leads the way in keeping the non-union accountable when doing public work

Kris LaGrange's picture
Oct 06, 2016

When elected officials start talking about student debt and college, they often mention apprenticeship programs.  These programs are a sort of a working college for the men and women who are learning a trade.  While many apprenticeship programs are organized in conjunction with unions, some are put on by private companies.  Unlike colleges, most apprenticeship programs in the country do not track graduation rates, but a program in Suffolk County New York is changing that.

Starting in 2002, Suffolk County began requiring contractors who were doing business with the County to have apprenticeship agreements in place before they could bid on county contracts. This not only helped to guarantee that quality work was being done, but that taxpayer funded projects were providing training and jobs to the communities that they were working in.  While the hope was to fuel the next generation of skilled tradesmen, the reality was that some unscrupulous contractors were hiring apprentices, paying them the lower rate, underbidding contracts and then firing the apprentices before they could complete their program.  This meant that these contractors could always underbid contracts without giving back to the community.

Suffolk County was the first in the nation that changed the law in 2015 to close this loophole.  After negotiations with both union and non-union contractors, it was agreed that contractors would need to prove that they had graduated apprentices before they could bid on county contracts.  The bill required that at least 1 apprentice per trade had graduated before they would qualify.  According to Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning, there was one contractor who hadn’t graduated a single apprentice in 10 years, so this bill would be marked change. Most importantly, by closing this loophole, the apprentices were learning more than a short term job, but they are building a long term career so that they can afford to continue to live and work on Long Island.

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