For many trade industries in Washington, state run apprenticeship programs are the gateway to licensing and job opportunities. Now the Washington State Apprenticeship Council (WSATC), part of Washington Labor and Industries (L&I), is looking to expand apprenticeship programs to other industry sectors, creating a new certification requirement and unionization of industry segments where there were none before.
This expansion is problematic, as it will drive up employer costs, decrease employee salaries and limit the availability of jobs.
For an example of an existing certification program that has limited the number of available workers, look to the electrical and electrician industry. The electrical certification program to move from a trainee to electrical journeyman, and ultimately onto master electrician, requires multiple hours of on-the-job training and a state-sponsored training program overseen by WSATC. While this creates a standard approach to training and standards across the industry, it also limits the potential job opportunities for electricians. Partially due to the pandemic, partially due to retirement and partially because only two organizations, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Construction Industry Training Council (CITC), offer the certification programs for new recruits, Washington is now facing an industry shortage of electricians. To make things worse, Senate Bill 6126, which was signed into law in 2018, allows only state-approved programs to offer certification, creating a virtual monopoly for CITC and IBEW on the certification process.
The WSATC, because of the limited certification opportunities, has become the controlling body of the number of electrician jobs in the state.
Now WSATC is asking for legislative authority to expand its charter to create apprenticeship programs in several new industry sectors. The proposal lists the sectors under consideration as;
Building Trades, Manufacturing and Engineering, Health Care and Behavioral Health, Education and Early Learning, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Biotechnology and Life Sciences, Creative Economy, Hospitality, and Personal Services.
These are job sectors that currently do not require state certification for employment and have functioned without government oversight for decades, without any problems or restrictions.
More troubling is the fact that only two organizations would be able to offer the certification for the sectors. CITC, which took almost 20 years to achieve certification status and IBEW which will only certify workers for union operated shops.
For an organization to become qualified to offer certifications, WSATC must approve the certification and since WSATC is mostly made up of union members with a vested interested in keeping the certification process under union control, the qualification process is arduous and very difficult to achieve. CITC took over two decades and enormous cost to achieve certification. The high bar to entry discourages many organizations from attempting the gain a certification status.
The goal of IBEW is to expand union influence into new industry sectors that are currently non-unionized and limit job opportunities to union members only. Additionally, the certification of new business sectors will not be free. Each employer will have to pay for the training of their employees. The training courses will be run by the certification bodies, CITC and the IBEW.
With tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon being headquartered in Washington state, the expansion of certification requirements to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will create significant barriers to entry for new developers, operations engineers and technical program managers.
Likewise, the hospitality sector, whose labor pool has been particularly hit hard with the state’s pandemic lockdown mandates, will be handicapped still further if an apprenticeship program for workers was implemented.
Apprenticeship requirement expansion into new industry sectors is not required and should be explicitly excluded from any legislative authority L&I and the WSATC has. The expansion is a brazen tax and authority grab by unionized organizations to control the private business sector AND TO INCLUDE AND EXCLUDE WORKERS SEEKING EMPLOYMENT. It is an attempt to control job creation and where employees can work.