Apprenticeships are important to Long Beach because they are a way for men and women who haven’t received a university education to earn a living-wage, even when more than half of recent college grads nationwide are unemployed, or “underemployed.”
Long Beach’s unemployment rate is currently 11.2 percent, and hasn’t been below 10 percent since 2008. But jobs in construction are actually on the rise, more than five percent this year alone.
Apprenticeships are a powerful and often overlooked way for people to make a great living. Even in this economy, a job in the trades can earn more than $30 per hour, and provide a family with full benefits. Over 50 apprenticeship programs are available in Long Beach alone.
Most programs only require a high school education to enroll, and many men and women with felony convictions have also found steady work in the trades from laborers, to electricians and pipe-fitters.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably have my old job, but I’d still be acting wild and running the streets trying to make ends meet,” said Thomas Ramirez, who is currently apprenticing at the Port of Long Beach for the Manson construction company through the Local No. 507 Laborers’ Union.
Ramirez is a 33-year old warehouse worker from Wilmington, who decided to put an unsavory past behind him when he joined the apprenticeship program for the Laborers’ Union in July. He has since gone as far as offering others who feel trapped in low-wage jobs rides to the union hall so they can sign up.
“There’s no discrimination out here,” he said. “If you’re ready to do your homework and take care of business, an apprenticeship can be a great opportunity.” Ramirez, who has been on the job for 5 months, has already earned two pay-raises.
Unions, and other organizations often offer free training and assistance to apprenticeship programs throughout the state. A list of those trades is available here.
A panel of union representatives, and an educator talked about apprenticeships at the Back to Work 2012 summit last weekend, hosted by Council Member Steven Neal and the Pacific Gateway Workforce Development Program.
Josh La Farga who spoke on behalf of the Laborers’ Union Local No. 507 said that apprenticeships don’t get you into a job, they provide you the opportunity to have a career in an industry that is not going away.
Vivian Price, an electrical line-woman, lifetime trade-worker and professor of labor studies at Dominguez HIlls State University was one of the members of the panel. She said that when she first went to apply to become an electrician, the clerk asked her who she weas applying for, insinuating that she certainly could not be applying for herself.
“The first thing you have to do is go buy yourself a pair of boots, and the jobs are certainly tough,” Price said about the male-dominated trade-industry, “But there are plenty of women working in trades in the Long Beach area right now.”
WINTER or Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles, is a group aimed at promoting a woman’s right to earn a living at a trade. Their Rosie the Riveter program is based in Long Beach and helps high school dropouts get into the trades through apprenticeship programs, as well as helping young men and women achieve goals of upward mobility by going to college.
The atmosphere of tolerance and diversity among trade-union-members was a resounding note of all of the speakers on the panel. Tommy Faavae the director of the IBEW Electrical Workers Union Local No. 11 here in Long Beach said, “ I represent a group of men and women as diverse as the population of Long Beach.”
Faavae graduated from an apprenticeship program almost 30 years ago, and today is an organizer for the union. He invites all men and women to try their hand at electrical work.
“It’s not easy, but union work is organized, and the check will always be there,” he said. As for public opinion that unions try to keep jobs hidden to ration them out to only their members, Faavae said that the IBEW goes to career fairs and anywhere that will have them to tell people about programs just like the one that got him his lifetime career as an electrician.
“Some people will be negative, but I invite them to come out and sign up,” he said.
In short- Today’s job market has proven that skills are still the most important part of being gainfully employed and traditional education does not always guarantee you a good job. Apprenticeships can help Central and West Long Beach because they help people learn marketable skills with only a high school diploma or GED.