The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 25, 2014

Apprenticeship survey shines light on training; What's the matter with kids today?

By The Building Tradesman

The nation’s unionized building trades apprenticeship programs have some work to do when it comes to screening prospective apprentices. Getting more potential apprentices is hampered at the high school level, where teachers and counselors don’t talk up the trades as a career option. And even today’s industry professionals don’t think that the construction careers of tomorrow’s apprentices will last more than a decade.

Those are a few takeaways of a survey released last month by Mark Breslin, a construction industry consultant who for the past 25 years has stressed quality and value as the successful path forward for union trades and contractors. Breslin has made his case to audiences of more than 250,000 over the years, with subjects inlcuding construction leadership, strategy, and labor-management relations.

Breslin’s 2014 Next Generation Apprenticeship Survey was released last month, and polled more than 1,300 construction industry professionals nationwide, including those associated with 14 of the 15 building trades unions.

“We hope that this summary of findings will assist your organization in developing policies and assigning resources to best identify, train and retain the next generation of apprentices in the United States and Canada,” Breslin said.

Following are a few highlights of the survey results:

*Eighty percent  of respondents report that school counselors and teachers discourage the trades as an attractive or viable career option.

*Labor and management have their own set of challenges with would-be apprentices. Interviews with candidates, Breslin said, “are generally 5-15 minutes and judged to be of very limited value.” And “high numbers of respondents do not test beyond math and reading.”

One of the most successful ways to recruit and retain candidates, Breslin said, is to “invest more time on the front end evaluation of the apprentice intake process.”

*Partly as a result of the poor weeding-out process at the front end, survey respondents expect one out of four union apprentices to end up a weak performer in the industry. “An anticipated 25 percent failure rate is a very serious issue of quality and performance for the future,” Breslin said. That’s due in part to 37 percent of respondents who say their apprenticeship evaluation and screening process for would-be apprentices is “worthless to mediocre.”

*One quarter of respondents reported nepotism in the apprentice candidate selection process, and 40 percent of respondents reported government interference.

*Only half of respondents said they expect an apprentice’s construction career to last a decade or longer. Only 22 percent expected them to be in the business for 20 years or more. “This represents a clear expectation of generational career jumping,” Breslin said.

*There was bit of piling on of the current generation of apprentices. A “major distraction” noted by 95 percent of respondents: apprentices’ use of personal technology. What’s more, there’s a sentiment by 75 percent of respondents claiming apprentices frequently exhibit “entitlement” behaviors. Apprentices “aren’t respectful to people in authority,” say 50 percent of respondents, and have a strong desire to participate in decision making regardless of position or experience.

*It wasn’t all bad: 75 percent of respondents said apprentices “are willing to work hard,” and that the onus was on industry leaders to develop “new ways of instruction” to reach the next generation of workers.

So how to improve training and the apprenticeship system? Breslin suggests implementing a candidate interview process of at least 25 minutes. Apprenticeship programs should match the number of incoming apprentices with the number of anticipated retiring journeymen over the next five years, figuring in that there will be members organized in and normal attrition of apprentices.

He suggested “life skills” should be introduced to apprenticeship curricula – money management, drug and alcohol awareness and career development. Apprentices should also be taught “Business 101″ subject matter related to construction: union vs. nonunion, cost of production, the bidding process and client satisfaction.

And, Breslin suggesting apprenticeship mentoring programs in conjunction with journeymen, and structure classes into crews to get apprentices involves in team thinking and peer accountability.