What Two Legislative Wins for Apprenticeship Means for Wisconsin Contractors

What Two Legislative Wins for Apprenticeship Means for Wisconsin Contractors
Gov. Scott Walker signs the high school apprenticeship measure at a Bayland Buildings jobsite in Ashwaubenon in April with employees and other ABC members looking on.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin scored two decisive legislative victories this spring, as Gov. Scott Walker signed two bills into law that will help address the skilled labor gap.

The ABC-backed measures reduce the state’s journeymen-to-apprentice ratios to 1-to-1 for all construction trades and allows qualified high school students to enter into adult apprenticeship programs during their senior year.

“We are appreciative of members of the Legislature and Gov. Walker for their support on these pieces of legislation,” said John Mielke, president of ABC of Wisconsin. “These initiatives create new opportunities to help apprentices enter the workforce, which bolsters the pool of job candidates available for our employer members and, ultimately, helps Wisconsin’s economy with family

Adult Apprenticeship

Assembly Bill 745 allows qualified high school seniors to start the adult apprenticeship program while still in school, enabling them to complete the program sooner. It’s similar to allowing high school students to take advanced placement (AP) courses for college (dual) credit.

The measure takes effect next school year, giving high school seniors access to valuable professional qualifications and experience through registered apprenticeship programs during their final year of school.

The bill was authored by Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Barron, and Sen. Pat Testin, R-Stevens Point, and received unanimous approval in the state Senate and Assembly.

“By increasing apprenticeship opportunities for high school students, we are opening the door for high school seniors to get a head start on their career in high-demand areas,” Walker said during an April 12 bill-signing ceremony in Ashwaubenon. “Through these on-the-job training programs, we are providing the future of Wisconsin’s workforce with needed skills to have rewarding careers. Investing in these apprenticeships is investing in our state’s future.”

By increasing apprenticeship opportunities for high school students, we are opening the door for high school seniors to get a head start on their career in high-demand areas.

— Gov. Scott Walker

“Corporate Contractors Inc. is excited about the passing of AB 745,” said Steve McNeal, executive vice president of business and educational services for CCI in Beloit and a former school superintendent. “We see this as a great opportunity to help young people explore the construction field while getting some real experience working with our skilled associates.”

McNeal was one of many ABC members who testified in support of apprenticeship measures.

“The apprenticeship program should be a win for the student learning a trade and the company in growing a workforce from within,” McNeal added. “This will add to the partnerships we already have with many school districts in our area.”

Previously, high school students could join only the youth apprenticeship program, which gives a broad overview of careers in the trades without teaching the skills needed to join the trade after graduation. A full apprenticeship program, meanwhile, involves classroom instruction and in-depth, hands-on training in their chosen career.

Allowing early entry to the adult apprenticeship program also allows seniors to get in line to make the full post-apprenticeship salary more quickly. Construction apprenticeship programs are typically three to five years.

The law defines high school seniors as students who are at least 16 years old and who are enrolled in 12th grade. The student is expected to graduate no later than the end of the school year and will receive high school credit for hours of related instruction provided by the apprenticeship sponsor. The senior must complete a minimum of 450 hours of on-the-job training during the first year of the apprenticeship.

1-to-1 ratio

Assembly Bill 508, signed by Gov. Walker on March 28, eliminated convoluted Department of Workforce Development rules that restricted construction employers from being able to train as many apprentices as needed.

The new law prevents more than one journeyman from being required to oversee the work of a single apprentice, which will allow the hiring of more apprentices.

The bill was authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield.

The change emulates other states – such as Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska –in allowing 1-to-1 ratios. The federal government also routinely approves 1-to-1 ratios for its apprenticeship programs, and Michigan recently passed a law allowing three electrical apprentices to serve under one skilled worker.

Brian “BJ” Jacobs, owner of Jakes Electric in Clinton, said the bill will be very useful for contractors during periods of growth when additional staff members are in need.

With the shortage of skilled people in the workforce, the last thing you want to be told is that you can’t enroll a quality person into the apprenticeship because of an unbalanced ratio.

— Brian “BJ” Jacobs, owner of Jakes Electric in Clinton

“With the shortage of skilled people in the workforce, the last thing you want to be told is that you can’t enroll a quality person into the apprenticeship because of an unbalanced ratio,” Jacobs said.

John Schulze, director of legal and government affairs for ABC of Wisconsin, said the old rules were complicated. For instance, a company that wanted to bring on one painter apprentice needed one skilled worker to oversee the apprentices. However, if the company wanted to bring on four painters, they needed 12 skilled workers to oversee the apprentices.

“Employers have told us there are times when they have two great candidates for the apprenticeship program, but can only start one because of the current ratio,” Schulze said while giving testimony on the bill. “It’s hard for contractors to face this kind of decision and risk losing a good candidate to another employer.”

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