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PA Workforce Training Programs Work to Increase Black Apprenticeships

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Friday, March 31, 2023   

Labor leaders in various industries recently celebrated the 85th anniversary of a federal law that laid the groundwork for registered apprenticeship programs in Pennsylvania and across the country. However, a new report says not everyone gets a fair shot at these opportunities.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that Black apprentices are underpaid and underrepresented in registered apprenticeship programs. Dewitt Walton, vice president and program director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said the key to changing this is for more people to know what's available.

"The opportunities for life-changing careers in the construction and building trades, we have to increase the awareness of those opportunities," he said, "and promote them in a more comprehensive and successful manner than we have in the past."

Walton said the Institute has been approved as the city's first Black-owned, state-certified pre-apprentice program for the skilled trades. He noted that they received a PA Smart Initiative grant of $400,000, and added that Pennsylvania is seeking additional grant dollars to boost diversity in apprenticeship programs.

Walton said 80% of people in the "Breaking the Chains of Poverty" workforce development program are African American, and from underserved, underrepresented or previously incarcerated communities.

"As a result, built real relationships with manufacturing, which the steelworkers' union has a huge impact in, and particularly in Western PA," he said. "We build out relationships with the construction and building trades."

Justin Nalley, the center's senior analyst for workforce policy, said apprenticeships have long served as a great "earn-as-you-learn" model in carving out a career. However, he added, there are some big gaps in opportunities for Black workers, including enrollment.

"Black apprentices only make up 9% of registered apprenticeship programs," he said, "but we make up 12% of the workforce."

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor issued grants aimed at modernizing apprenticeships and boosting the representation of workers of color in registered programs. Currently, about 600,000 people are enrolled in apprenticeship programs across the country.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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