More than 10,000 people are enrolled in Oregon's state-registered apprenticeship programs for the first time ever.
Apprentice programs certified by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries have doubled in attendance since 2013, which officially came after the Great Recession but still was a time of low economic output, especially in construction in Portland.
As of June 2019, there were 10,002 certified Oregon apprentices, according to BOLI.
The Bureau of Labor and Industries currently certifies and monitors 146 active apprenticeship programs across the state. The largest are training programs for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and steamfitters. Carpenters and electricians are also the two highest growth occupations.
The agency said that they are growing more diverse. The number of women apprentices in those programs has grown from 293 to 705 over the same time period, while the number of minority apprentices has leaped from 683 to 1,979.
Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who succeeded Brad Avakian in November 2018, applauded the success of Oregon's existing apprenticeship programs.
"In an apprenticeship, you're getting paid to learn. And when you're done, there's no student debt," Hoyle said in a news release. "It's great to see Oregonians from diverse backgrounds choosing this path in record numbers."
According to the release, most of the growth in state-certified apprenticeships in recent years is tied to the revival of the construction industry, which reached a record high of 113,000 jobs this year in Oregon after a prolonged slump during the Great Recession.
Over the past three years, around 85% of all newly registered apprentices are in the building and construction trades.
That growth is expected to continue: in the Portland metro area alone, there are at least 80 planned public-sector construction projects worth $7.5 billion over the next few years.
The bureau also has created new apprenticeship programs in different sectors, like information technology and health care, and expanded its programs for a variety of careers in manufacturing. Those efforts have led to 450 new apprentices over the past two years.
BOLI's Apprenticeship and Training Division administrator, Stephen Simms, said that registered apprenticeships are a win for employers, participants and the state of Oregon.
"The apprenticeship model gives employers the ability to develop their own workforce, taking individuals with limited skills and putting them in a one- to four-year program," Simms said.
"The result is a fully productive worker for the employer and a lifetime family-wage career for the apprentice, who will contribute to the state's economy."
Carrie Weikel-Delaplane, director of apprenticeship and trades at Portland Community College's Swan Island Trades Center, said the growth is in response to baby boomers in the trades retiring.
"The demographic change in the workplace is being more talked about, and the need to replace retiring workers is at an astonishing rate in the next five years," she said. "And one of the most effective ways to do that is apprenticeships. It's an incredible model for employers and students."
This is because apprentices learn on the job, while being paid, and finish their education debt-free and with a job lined up.
"Some apprentices pay for their school, but more often than not it's covered by the employer," Weikel-Delaplane said. "Employers like it because they are training them the way they want them trained."
She said that in a trade such as electrician, passing your exams gives you a journey card that can lead to a lifetime of employment.
As well as the trades such as carpentry, electrician, masonry and ironworking, which tend to change very slowly, there is a need for apprenticeships in new technology fields.
At PCC Swan Island Training Center, she said they work with the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose. There are students taking classes at Swan Island and at Scappoose High School in advanced manufacturing.
She points out that apprenticeships are highly regulated by BOLI, which sets academic and safety standards that must be followed.
A journey card is a state credential, but unions can form their own journey training programs, as can companies such as Boeing. Weikel-Delaplane said at PCC they support all of those.
For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has its own training center for apprentices. But anyone can be a journey tradesperson, union or nonunion.
"The more we can look at different models, the better. We're all trying to find out: How does the education provide the most current and relevant tools to students, and how does it get Portland people into living-wage jobs?
"Three years ago, there wasn't much discussion, but now for a couple of years it's been a hot topic," Weikel-Delaplane said. "People are thinking about it as a viable solution to meet the workforce need, which is becoming more urgent."
Educators and industry are thinking younger and younger.
"You used to go into middle schools to talk to kids about careers and trades," she said. "Now it's the third grade. Especially for women and people of color, that's when they are starting to make decisions like 'whether math is for me, or science?' It's about getting to kids before they make those decisions."
It can literally come down to using a ruler.
"They don't learn to measure any more. You have to show them, here's how you measure things with precision, with a tape measure (or laser), and this is how it can apply in life. One they know how to do that can open up a whole world of confidence."
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