The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 05, 2019

ABC training remains consistent: They've been a constant failure

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - The Associated Builders and Contractors-Michigan - the anti-union construction group which backed last year's effort to repeal the state's prevailing wage law - is certainly better at lobbying lawmakers than it is at training the next generation of construction trades workers.

In advance of the ABC-Michigan's March 20 "Lobby Day" at the state Capitol, the Michigan Laborers District Council, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Operating Engineers Local 324 through their ABC Truth website released a study which examines 16 years of the ABC-Michigan's Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship training programs. The study found what prior studies have uncovered about the ABC's "training" record: if Michigan and the rest of the nation want to get serious about addressing the chronic shortage of workers in the construction industry, they must get serious about weeding out such substandard industry educational programs. 

"If lawmakers want to fill the skilled trades gap, they would learn a lot more by speaking to the 86 percent of ABC apprentices who did not graduate," said Michigan Laborers District Council Business Manager Geno Alessandrini. "Those apprentices actually wanted to work to rebuild our state and the only thing they did wrong was falling into the trap of ABC’s high-priced, phony trade schools that fail as bad as the worst performing schools in Michigan."

The report, authored by the University of Utah Economics Professor Dr. Cihan Bilginsoy, strictly reviewed data which the ABC self-reported to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Registered Apprenticeship. DOL-registered apprenticeship programs are the gold standard in training programs, with curricula designed alongside DOL requirements and participants' progress logged with the Department throughout their programs.

Among the ABC Truth study's most notable revelations:

*Small in size and scope: From 2000 to 2016, more than 40,000 people enrolled in a Michigan-based registered apprenticeship program. Just four percent of these individuals were registered into ABC-related programs.

The research revealed that ABC-Michigan-based DOL training programs have graduated 236 apprentices since 2000. That averages out to less than 15 graduates a year. By comparison during that same period of time, union-led JATC programs have graduated  9,901 registered apprentices and single-employer driven programs have completed an additional 1,044.

*The Michigan-ABC Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) training program charges individuals $1,400 per semester or up to $11,600 per program. The study said the ABC program is "one of the most expensive trade schools in the state and charges more per semester than several of Michigan’s community colleges," and "very little to no financial assistance is offered."

It's a different story on the union side. Ask any union tradesperson: Unions and their contractors operate joint training programs that don't charge tuition or fees, and pay apprentices for learning and working.

*Harder than medical school: ABC programs exhibited the highest rate of cancellation and the lowest rate of completion. Two-thirds of the ABC program apprentices dropped out before completing apprenticeship requirements and only 14 percent graduated. Michigan’s high schools graduate students at a far higher rate (79 percent), and even the nation's medical schools (80 percent) do better. 

*Low-wage growth: ABC program apprentice starting wages were reported 13 percent lower than that of the joint union-employer program apprentices, and their exit wage was lower by a factor of two.

*Failure to recruit minorities and women: ABC programs account for 1 percent of the completed apprenticeships among both non-whites and women.

A letter on the website, sponsored by the three construction labor unions, asks site visitors to urge Michigan lawmakers to cut off state funding for ABC-backed trade schools. "On several actions they misled school districts throughout Michigan, falsely telling them that they were approved CTE (career/technical education) and/or dual enrollment providers of services to public high schools," the site says. "They were not and have never been approved under these designations."

On March 21, the ABC Southeast Michigan Chapter's Facebook page posted its version of a rebuttal to the study. 

*The ABC chapter said their graduation rates are low because their apprentices often fail to “document and submit to federal bureaucrats that they’ve hit 8,000 hours” of required on the job training (OJT) hours. ABC Truth responded: Since when did it become the responsibility of individual apprentices, and not the training programs, to submit those documented hours? "There is not even a mechanism for apprentices to submit their own hours," ABC Truth says.  "It is shocking and frankly confusing why ABC wouldn’t know this and tried to throw their own apprentices under the bus for the program’s failures."

*Another part of the ABC's rebuttal said "the union is a five-year program, so they have an easier time tracking the hours because the workers are their employees. And they can track them well beyond five years until they 'graduate.'"

Building trades craftworkers are employed by their unions? ABC Truth responds: "Labor union members are not employees of their unions and unions are not employers. This isn’t debatable, it is fact. Labor unions work with their signatory contractors to develop methods to track and submit apprentice OTJ hours."

Over the past two decades, ABC training in the U.S. has gone from dismal to abysmal. A 2005 national study by the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO found that of the 24,663 apprentices who registered in all ABC sponsored programs (except Hawaii) between 1995 and 1999, only 7,154 graduated by 2003, for an overall ABC graduation rate of only 29 percent.

By way of comparison in that era, from 1997 to 2001, Labor Department numbers indicate the union apprenticeship programs in 36 states that participate in its database graduated 75 percent of enrollees or 45,580 apprentices.

In addition, a 2012 expose by the Building Trades Department revealed that despite claiming its membership base as representative of “80 percent of construction,” the  ABC's membership amounts to only 1 percent of all U.S. construction businesses, and a substantial number of the ABC's national membership is not related to the construction industry at all. “At the time this analysis was completed,” the report said, “there were 44 Chevrolet dealers included in the ABC membership, as well as 673 insurance brokers/dealers and 59 banks. (None of whom, presumably have ever been paid to lift a hammer or plumb a building).