November 14 – 20, 2016 was National Apprenticeship Week. This was an opportunity to highlight how Registered Apprenticeships meet the needs for a skilled workforce for employers, education, and industry associations. 47 states made proclamations and participated in the celebration. New York was not one of them. The reason why New York passed it by is not clear. But just because New York wasn’t part of NAW 2016 does not mean that those of us who live in New York don’t appreciate, applaud and celebrate apprentices. The trades and the opportunities they bring are critically important to New York as they are to the rest of the nation.
In New York we have about 148 different certified trades with apprenticeship programs and presently about six hundred thousand journeyman tradesmen who have completed an apprenticeship and make their living in the trades. This represents only about seven percent of New York’s workforce. Projections are that over 25,000 openings for these skills will be there every year for at least the next decade. Half of these are from retirement and half from job growth. There are presently 686 active apprenticeship programs. Five of these are operated by Optimation Industrial Services to grow our own workforce of qualified skilled workers.
There is much interest in many areas for this kind of opportunity. We advertised for six openings in our program during the summer. We had over 120 applicants, many of them extremely qualified. Four of the six apprentices we selected had at least one two-year degree. Several of them already had years of industrial experience. The pool of talent was so deep that we hired an additional four as general service mechanics with the hope they would be able to join our program in the new semester starting in January.
Revitalizing manufacturing is one of the keys of revitalizing the New York State economy and the US economy. The average age of skilled trades workers in NY is several years higher than that of the average worker. They will retire sooner, depleting the skill pool. A proficient growing trade program is essential to making this happen. At Optimation, bringing manufacturing back to the United States is our passion. A successful apprenticeship program is only one small part of what we need to do to make this happen.
During National Apprenticeship Week and during the other 51 weeks of the year we celebrate apprentices. Education about the opportunities is an important part of recruiting new participants. We do know that having a role model is the reason that many young people choose their career. As there are fewer employees in the trades there are also fewer role models. It then falls on us and our schools to carry the ball. BOCES is one of the places the seed can be planted. Explorer posts and other technical focused clubs can also help.
I encourage you to add to the buzz whenever you have a chance. Encourage someone you know to join an apprenticeship, create a new career for themselves, and help to rebuild our country.