Pathways of Promise
Inside the impressive workforce development activities of the Laborers Training School
The growing workforce shortage is a hot topic in today’s construction space. There simply aren’t enough trade workers to fulfill the industry’s rising needs—though one group in Southern California is doing its best to meet the challenge.
The Laborers Training & Retraining Trust Fund of Southern California (Training School) is focusing on skills training and industry certifications to attract new construction talent. Specifically, the organization is providing apprentice and journeyman programs for skills that range from asphalt and tunneling work to water filtration.
The school graduates some 400 apprentices and trains thousands more annually from its main campus in Azusa, California, as well as satellite campuses and mobile training units.
“We’re an incubator for creating opportunity while facilitating a qualified and committed workforce,” confirms Scott Gordon, executive director of the Training School.
While the scope, scale and success of the training program is impressive, the remarkable network of individuals that make it run so effectively is inspiring.
A Multifaceted Arrangement
The Training School is one of many entities under the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) umbrella. The organization represents more than 500,000 working men and women throughout the United States and Canada. Through the leadership and vision of Terry O’Sullivan, General President of LIUNA for the last 18 years, LIUNA has been a powerful force in creating family-sustaining jobs.
With over 400 local unions and more than 70 affiliated training funds, LIUNA simplifies all of the moving parts by categorizing funds as well as organizing local and affiliated organizations into regions. For instance, the LIUNA Pacific Southwest Region (PSW) covers LIUNA members throughout Arizona, California, Hawaii and New Mexico. PSW is led by regional manager Rocco Davis, who is also special assistant to the LIUNA General President and the Vice President-at-large. He assists and guides the Southern California District Council of Laborers (SCDCL) as well as 12 LIUNA local unions, multiple departments and funds, such as the Training School. Jon Preciado, business manager of SCDCL, also serves as the Labor co-chair of the Training School.
Gordon explains, “Given the multifaceted [LIUNA] organization and associated relationships, the only way our training program can work effectively is if everyone—all management and labor members in the organization—work together to develop and approve an effective business plan.”
As the training arm for LIUNA in Southern California, Training School is comprised of a board of trustees with management and labor representatives that provides the fund with an annual business plan for training that meets both employers’ and workers’ needs.
In total, the Training School offers journey worker and apprentice training to members of the eight LIUNA local unions in Southern California: Laborers Local 89 (San Diego), 220 (Kern, San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, Nipomo, Santa Barbara), 300 (greater Los Angeles area), 585 (Ventura, Oxnard), 652 (Orange County), 783 (Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino), 1184 (Riverside, Imperial Valley) and 1309 (Long Beach, South Bay area).
The fund administers three apprenticeship programs: Construction Craft Laborer, Landscape & Irrigation Fitter, and Laborers Cement Mason. Each program has individual standards, related supplemental instruction (RSI) and on-the-job training (OJT) requirements. All three programs are recognized/registered by the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) and the Department of Labor (DOL). Through accreditation (see end of story notes about accreditation), the Training School maintains the highest industry standards in personnel and curriculum development.
To join either program, applicants must be at least 18 years of age and pass a drug test, Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) and an oral interview. Upon successful completion of the one-week orientation, applicants are able to join their corresponding local union (based on residence and jurisdiction). As union members, they have access to all training available at the Training School.
After their first dispatch to work, applicants are registered with the DAS and DOL and officially become apprentices. Through the help of the Training School’s nine apprenticeship coordinators, apprentices are mentored and guided through the apprenticeship program’s requirements (RSI and OJT). Apprenticeship coordinators monitor apprentice progress, as well as report on and make recommendations for disciplinary action, period advancements, graduation approvals and special requests to the regional subcommittees (which are comprised of management and labor representatives).
The largest apprenticeship program is the Construction Craft Laborer program, which currently has 2,000 active apprentices and graduates on average 400 apprentices per year.
Customized for Demand
All Training School programs are focused on areas of real industry need. Gordon adds, “The goal of any apprenticeship is to give individuals an opportunity to gain employable lifetime skills and provide employers (contractors) with a highly skilled and experienced workforce while strengthening [the economy].”
When those needs emerge, the Training School looks to all within the community who have employment potential—including women and minorities, those with learning disabilities or with language impediments, at-risk youth and many others. The fund also teams with organizations such as the Southern California–based nonprofit Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), PVJOBS and Webuild Services LLC, to name a few. Collaborating with organizations that prepare applicants for apprenticeship programs is important.
Recently, the Laborers Local 300 in Los Angeles began piloting the Workforce Initiative Now-Los Angeles (WIN-LA) to identify, assess, train and employ participants for careers in construction through its Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy. WIN-LA is delivered through established partnerships with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and many others in the public and private sectors.
In Orange County, Laborers Local 652 is in negotiations with the mayor of Santa Ana and the Santa Ana Unified School District’s school board to partner together in implementing an outreach program to inform high school students about apprenticeship opportunities.
And in San Diego, the Training School—in partnership with Laborers Local 89—has developed a welding program as a way to open job pathways for members. The program features welding methods that can be useful in demolition and pipe projects led by LIUNA’s signatory contractors.
Gordon says, “We’re excited to work with community organizations, such as WIN-LA and others, to meet the needs of skilled labor in the region through a disciplined apprenticeship program such as ours.”
“We’re an incubator for creating opportunity while facilitating a qualified and committed workforce.” Scott Gordon, Executive Director, Laborers Training & Retraining Trust Fund of Southern California
By the Numbers
Training is facilitated at the Training School main campus in Azusa and five other fixed campuses. The organization also conducts mobile training at various locations, including contractor yards and remote areas throughout Southern California.
Gordon explains, “We take the school—essentially equipment, materials and instructors—to contractors that need us.”
As shown in the 2018 Participants by Local Union table, the Training School educated a total 4,719 individuals in 2018. Perhaps more significant is how many classes participants completed in 2018, which totaled almost 20,000—an increase of nearly 50 percent over the last five years. Of note, apprentices are required to take courses that meet industry regulations, but it is equally important for journeymen and journeywomen to do so as well. Courses such as OSHA 10, Traffic Control/Flagger, Scaffold User/Builder, Hoisting & Rigging, Hazard Waste Worker, Lead Abatement and Air Tools are always in high demand.
Additionally, the number of apprentice graduates over the last five years has been high. 2018 graduations were nearly double compared to graduations in 2013.
“Completions are indicative of the demand in training needs,” Gordon says. “Apprentices and journeymen are required to take classes throughout the year, which we call completions. When the number of completions is high, that means our members are training and expanding their skills.”
He adds, “Through [these types of opportunities], we’re creating a dynamic and diverse workforce. In many cases, we feel like we’re the last opportunity for a lot of people who don’t have other resources. [As a skilled tradesperson], anyone can overcome challenges and build a good life.”