The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin Apprenticeship program is marking 30 years of service to the construction industry today. That’s longer than most apprentices have been alive. If you were around during that time, you may recall many of the obstacles and challenges ABC members faced getting the program started.
It was August 3, 1987 when the State of Wisconsin approved the program standards that met all state requirements for construction apprenticeship.
“We worked with the State for two years to get these approved,” said Wayne Belanger, Education Director for ABC of Wisconsin recalls. “This was a complete paradigm shift for construction skills training in the state, but it was not without obstacles,” Belanger said.
The concept of developing an apprenticeship program emerged from a Leadership Planning conference in the fall of 1985. There were many contractors running independent training programs at the time.
“These were skill upgrade classes, which were valuable, but offered no credential,” said Belanger. “There were several hundred workers in these programs, but while it developed skills, it was not apprenticeship.”
Regardless, the large number served as leverage in getting the apprenticeship program approved by the state. ABC worked closely with Charlie Nye, the apprenticeship director with the old Department of Industry, Labor & Human Relations (DILHR). ABC began to work with technical colleges on using facilities and instructors. The curriculum for the program was “Wheels of Learning,” now known as the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum.
The expansion of construction apprenticeship prompted legal action by unions’ joint apprenticeship committees who argued the State did not have the right to approve additional apprenticeship programs. After a favorable ruling by the State Supreme Court, the ABC program flourished with contractors using this alternative to training programs associated with labor union contracts.
Today, the program has 1,300 apprentices around Wisconsin in 12 trades, including Carpentry, Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC, Sheet Metal, Steamfitting, Sprinkler Fitting, Heavy Equipment Operating, Roofing, Concrete Finishing, Heat & Frost Insulating and Construction Craft Laborer. The program has trained tens of thousands of craft workers over the years. “So many graduates have gone into leadership roles in the industry, earned advanced degrees and even purchased companies from their employers,” said Belanger.
“It requires a strong commitment on the part of the contractors, but those who train in apprenticeship understand that the knowledge and skills acquired by apprentices pays dividends in the form of increased productivity in the long run,” Belanger concluded.