Welcome to Grit Nation, The Building Trades Podcast.
On today’s episode I will be talking with returning guest, Frank Manzo, from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.
This time around Frank and I discuss building trades apprenticeships.
We’ll start our conversation by looking into how the Illinois Economic Policy Institute gathers the data needed to create fair, unbiased, and fact-based comparisons of apprenticeship programs across the US.
Next, we’ll unpack how employer funded non-union apprenticeships stack up against member supported union programs.
And why a graduate of a non-union apprenticeship earns on average18,000 dollars less per year than their union counterpart.
Later, we’ll discuss the numerous similarities in income earning potential, diversity and inclusion rates, as well as other socio-economic outcomes when Frank juxtaposes a building trades journey level certification earned from a union apprentice program to that of a traditional 4-year college degree.
And we’ll finish our conversation by learning why states with strong union apprentice programs, in addition to prevailed wage laws have worksites that are more productive, safer, and are better value for the taxpayer.
This episode shines a bright light on the many misconceptions surrounding careers in the blue-collar trades and redefines what it means to have a degree that can’t be easily outsourced and will provide a pathway to professional and financial success in the working middle-class of America and Canada.
The Show Notes
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Welcome to Grit Nation. I'm Joe Cadwell, the host of the show. On today's episode I will be talking with returning guest Frank Manzo from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. This time around Frank and I discussed building trades apprenticeships. Next we'll unpack how employer funded non-union apprenticeships stack up against member supported union programs, and why a graduate of a non-union apprenticeship earns on average $18,000 less per year than their union counterpart. Later we will discuss the numerous similarities in income earning potential diversity and inclusion rates as well as other socio economic outcomes when Frank juxtaposes a building trades journey level certification earned from a union apprenticeship program to that of a traditional four year college degree. Frank Manzo, welcome to Grit Nation.Frank Manzo:
Thank you for having me back again, Joe.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, thank you, Frank, for being on the show. I'm really happy to have you back. Last time we talked was a few months ago and you were on the show talking about prevailed wage, and how the study you did with the University of Oregon show that when you hire organized labor union carpenters and workers, that it does not drive the cost up that those labor costs to do not increase that they actually can go down. I thought that was an amazing conversation. And I think today I'd like to follow up with apprenticeships, I know you've recently been interviewed and have a great video out that was put out by the IBEW that talks about apprenticeships, and I was hoping you could tell us more about what the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and Frank Manzo know about union apprenticeships.Frank Manzo:
Yeah, happy to do. So. I'm here today, Joe. And yeah, looking forward to talking about our most recent study and the whole body of research on apprenticeship training, especially as it pertains to the construction industry, and in particular, the union construction industry. Good deal. Before we do that, though, Frank, can you tell us a little bit more about the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, how long it's been around what your role is there? And more importantly, where do you gather your information during these studies to come out with these reports? Yeah, great question, Joe. So the the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, we've been around for a little over eight years now since 2013. And we are a nonprofit research organization that promotes thoughtful economic growth, for businesses and working families. The majority of our reports are co authored with academic professors, as you mentioned, like professors from the University of Oregon, to in my state, the University of Illinois, to Colorado State University, and so on and so forth. We use data from the Census Bureau and the US Department of Labor in particular. And so we use those datasets, because they are kind of official government data that has been collected and is used for things like the unemployment rate that comes out every month and jobs, reports. And then we also use other report data from you know, the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration for things like apprenticeship training statistics, so fact based, quantifiable data that's not biased doesn't have a spin. It's just what you use to analyze the numbers to come up with a lot of these reports that you put together. Yeah, right. That's, that's right. Our role is to call balls and strikes and conduct sound, credible analyses, on major policy issues, and especially in the construction industry. And to be sure that those analyses can can withstand public scrutiny from any other professors who might look at them and say, is that right? And then they, you know, we cite all of our data and everyone can run the numbers themselves if they'd like to. So, and we encourage that, yeah, pure peer reviewed. Well, that's great. Today we're going to be talking about apprenticeships and we know that there are two types of apprenticeships out there in the US Construction Industry. There's the union apprenticeship and there's the non union apprenticeship. I was hoping you could compare apples to apples in this case. Yeah, great question, Joe. And good point, I think it is worth noting that again, game construction, there are these two types of apprenticeship programs, the the largest players, by far across the country in my State of Illinois and your state of Oregon, the largest players are the are the union programs, and those are privately negotiated between contractors and unions, the joint labor management programs, and they are funded by cents per hour contribution from employers that is used to train the next generation of skilled trades people. You know, I think most a lot of people, your listeners are familiar with those. But it's worth noting that, you know, on the other side, we have these non union, employer only programs which are administered solely by the companies and rely entirely on their voluntary contributions. You know, these programs can often be very poorly funded, because, you know, contractors who voluntarily contribute to apprenticeship programs, you know, don't have an incentive to keep doing that, if they're trying to win, you know, have the lowest bid on a project, and they're trying to compete against union contractors that have more productive workers, right. So what they think to themselves, why lower this bid, so you know, what, I'm just gonna slash the plumbing, apprenticeship training, I might even cut wages, right in order to win the bid, right? So these programs are often are often poorly funded, whereas the union programs are often well funded. And they're institutionalized with training investments that are made on an ongoing basis. So that's the biggest difference between the two. And I will just say, and I can legit ask any other questions you have, at least initially, but the data reveal that there's really no comparison, quite honestly, between the union segment of the construction construction industry and the non union segments, in terms of training.Joe Cadwell:
Now, so what is the date of that out?Frank Manzo:
Yes, right. So so we look at a range of outcomes. But and differences between the union segment of the of training and the non union segments of apprenticeship training. And what we find is that everything from earnings to hours of training, to social outcomes and completion rates, as well as diversity, and all of those metrics, the union segment of the industry fares better. So for instance, a graduate a of a union apprenticeship program earns on average across America $18,000 More annually, then a similar graduate from a non union construction apprenticeship program. And that's on average across the country, that difference is larger in some states, same thing, they have higher completion rates and higher completion rates, in particular, among trainees of color, and women and veterans as well. So those programs are also not only enrolling a more diverse class cohorts of apprentices, but graduating a more diverse cohort of apprentices. And then same thing, you know, all the way down to to social outcomes. So, so union construction workers are more likely to be married and own their homes and, and have health insurance and not rely on government assistance. Whereas the non union construction workers, again, who graduate from those programs are you know, are less likely to be married and less likely to own homes less likely to have health insurance, things like that.Joe Cadwell:
And I see this on a day to day basis. Obviously, full disclosure, if you have been listening to the show for a while you know that I am an apprentice coordinator at the Pacific Northwest carpenters Institute here in the Pacific Northwest, I work with the carpenters union. And we take a lot of pride at our Regional Training Center to make sure we do have the highest level of education available to our apprentices, and that we do actively recruit out in the community to bring in women people of color, and minorities and and really consider ourselves sort of a high mark in which to set everyone else's apprenticeship to and it's interesting that you say a lot of these self funded or privately put together apprenticeship programs can can cut away at the program when it becomes inconvenient for those contractors to continue on with them.Frank Manzo:
Yeah, well into your first point. And even just to hone in a little bit more. What the research shows what the data shows is that the union programs and construction are more diverse than the non union programs. And that's because the share of enrollees who are Black and African American and the share of enrollees who are Hispanic and Latino and Latina in these union pressure programs, they're actually on par with public universities in most states. I know that to be true of Oregon. It's also true of my state of Illinois, but the shares of enrollees if you look at you know, incoming oppressive apprenticeship classes to also then incoming freshmen classes at at your local public universities, they're almost always about the same. Now, obviously gender is a little bit different, right is there's that, you know, but the the gender diversity, there's more women in particular in, in the joint labor management union apprenticeship programs. So one key point there is that improving industry diversity is one major reason to scale up the union model of training,Joe Cadwell:
For sure. And in regards to scaling up, do you see that there is an uptick in the interest in Union apprenticeships currently? Now a quick word from our sponsor, grid nation is brought to you by union Homeplus, who for over 20 years have been helping union families just like yours save money when they buy, sell, or finance their home. But don't take my word for it. Here's what Zach from the local 32 Seattle plumbers and fitters asked to say, once again, I must tell you that I think the entire staff at Union home deserves recognition for their commitment to customer service and integrity, or Ariane from the operating engineers. It's hard to write down how you made our life so much better. We will be forever grateful for this home, you've gone above and beyond in helping well there you have it, testimonials from satisfied union Home Plus customers. So do yourself a favor and give the friendly folks over at Union Home Plus, I call today, union Home Plus helping union families find their way home for over 20 years. And now back to the show.Frank Manzo:
Yeah, great question. And there's been an increase in demand for it for this type of training. Over the last decade, the number of active apprentices across the United States has more than doubled. And that's important because enrollment at colleges and universities over this time is actually slightly declined. So we've seen a more than doubling in the apprenticeship training system. While you know, universities and colleges have been either stagnant or declining over the last decade, and so something's going on. And that's really the reason we decided to to study these these programs and see how they compare against one another and then also take it a step further and see how if at all they compared to the University System of Higher Education.Joe Cadwell:
Now we're comparing apples to oranges to some respect, we have the apprenticeship the blue collar trades being compared to a four year college degree. And what are the socio economic outcomes of both of the graduating from both of those programs? Or is there a study done yet on that?Frank Manzo:
Yeah, so So great question and and that's really the key and in our in our most recent study is that there really is no comparison between the union segment of the industry and the non union. The better comparison is the union segments of the of a registered apprenticeship training to two and four year college degrees. Apprenticeships from Union programs are the bachelor's degrees of the construction industry. And on average, the graduates of union apprenticeship programs are able to achieve near wage and benefits parity with other types of workers with four year college degrees. And again, compared to those those two and four year colleges, and in particular, the public universities, union apprenticeships in construction deliver a more robust training regimen, similar diversity outcomes, as we've been mentioning, and competitive wages and benefits, all while leaving graduates entirely free of that $40,000 or sometimes more in student loan debt.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, I think $40,000 would be on the low end for sure. Nowadays, our students they graduate from from our program after four years, it's 6000. On the Job hours, backed up by 640, didactic academic hours, they come out three credits shy of an associate's degree from a local community college that does the accreditation for our students. And yeah, they now have a skill set that can't be easily outsourced. And as you said, more importantly, they come out completely debt free. And you can't say that for a lot of folks that unfortunately, enroll into college really don't have an understanding of what they want to make out of a career. They get into a university system. And they realize that they're racking up tremendous amounts of debt, trying to figure out what in life they want to do. And it's, it's it's an interesting comparison that you say on the front end, and then also on the back end, when someone finally does graduate from a university and has to now make up all that those student loans. They're really behind the eight ball compared to a lot of our apprentices that hit the ground running as journey level workers going out and building the infrastructure of our country.Frank Manzo:
Yeah, and I'll just just to speak to what you said there, Joe, the your program averaging, you know, well over 6000 hours of on the job in classroom training. That program itself and the average union construction program requires more hours of classroom been on the job training training in order to graduate then the minimum requirements to earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Oregon, and at Oregon State University. It's important because construction is not low skilled work. And it is, you know, this model of training delivers a pathway to economic security, and the middle class for for workers who may otherwise be blue collar, or maybe just workers who are, you know, could go to college, but are not sure exactly what they want to do and what, you know, rather work with their hands. Right, this may offer a better pathway for those individuals into the middle class. And in fact, the union construction workers across America, when we look at, you know, averaging their incomes, their outcomes are, again, most similar to American workers with college degrees. And again, the way into that good construction job, the union apprenticeship program. Yeah, it doesn't come with any of that student loan debt. And I, you know, I, I wish I had known that years ago when I was in high school. So I can tell, you know, a lot of my friends who who would have been much better off going through a union apprenticeship program than then going to college and maybe not graduating or, or going to college and being in a job that they still don't love. And it's one of the reasons why you can ask, I'm sure it's true for your program. A lot of these apprenticeship programs are accepting applicants and enrolling applicants who already have a two or sometimes even a four year degree just looking to try and do something new. Because, you know, college, even having the degree wasn't the right pathway for them.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, sure. And we also see a lot of folks with prior military service people that are exit exiting the armed forces. And their perfect fits for our apprenticeship program, because they know what it's like that that to do that hard physical work. They know what it's like to have the discipline to get yourself on time before time to the job site every day. They know what it's like to work out in the weather. What can you tell us a little bit about what the Illinois Policy Institute knows about veterans transitioning into the trades?Frank Manzo:
Yeah, so great question, Joe. So So we at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute with with our our co authors and other universities have looked at the impact of prevailing wage laws. And you mentioned we get talked about that previously, on military veterans in particular. And what we found there is that the states that have prevailing wage laws are have higher shares of veterans employed as construction workers, meaning that the prevailing wage law has helped attract and retain military veterans into those skilled construction trades. It because partly because it delivers a good middle class income for these individuals as they come back. It's partly also because the US military apprenticeship program does train active servicemen and women to be construction workers and other and do other kinds of crafts and skills as well, but helps, you know, and create a pipeline into the trades. But again, they're there, you're more likely to have a veteran employed on a construction job site if that job site is in a state with a prevailing wage law. And military veterans are also more likely to be enrolled in joint labor management union apprenticeship training programs, that is the share of military veterans is higher for union apprenticeship programs than it is for the non union side.Joe Cadwell:
Why do you think that is? Yeah,Frank Manzo:
it's a good question. It's kind of speaks to what you mentioned, it's there's, I think there's a sense from for many military veterans when they return home from service that they would like to, to make a you know, make contribution and continue their service to the public. And, you know, so many military veterans become police officers and firefighters and teachers and things like that as well to continue their service. And but others look to the trades as a way of hey, maybe I can build the infrastructure for for the citizens that I served and protected. While I was while I was abroad, right? Me instead of instead of being a college student going, you know, to a to a stadium to watch a football game, maybe I can build that stadium and build that dormitory for that college students. And so that's that's the sense that we hear often from from military veterans who are in construction is that I feel that I that sense of purpose working here and construction, just like I did, you know, working alongside quite honestly more of my brothers and sometimes my sisters but working alongside my brothers and sisters in the trades, just like it was when I was in combat or abroad.Joe Cadwell:
So we talked a little bit earlier about the good value that unions bring the apprenticeship program brings two prevailed wage jobs. These jobs are oftentimes done, you know, ahead of schedule, under budget and done safer, Do you does the Illinois Economic Policy Institute have any statistics on union versus non union in regards to safety on a job site?Frank Manzo:
So another great question and it actually would be a separate report than kind of the initial one I was talking about, but most recently, in within the last in at the end of 2021. The Illinois economic policy and students did release a report on safety in the construction industry, in particular, comparing union work sites to non union work sites. So what we did is we looked at every single OSHA inspection conducted in 2019. And we stopped that 2019, because the numbers dropped off in 2020. And also, there's been some cases that weren't decided yet by even by 2021. So we had 2019 data where case, the investigations were all closed. And we looked at 37,000 OSHA inspections at these projects. And what we found is that across the United States, unionized construction work sites, face 34% fewer health and safety violations than their non union counterparts. So we're looking at work sites that are significantly safer. You know, even though unions only represent a fraction of the union construction industry they represent, you know, somewhere between 14 and 25%, depending on the exact number you use of the industry, even though that's the case, the union work sites only account for 5% of OSHA violations and construction. So that ratio is very, very different. And showing that again, that those work sites are in fact, safer.Joe Cadwell:
Wow, that's a that's significant. So if I am to put all this in a nutshell, Frank, the data shows that by enrolling in a union apprenticeship in working for a union company, not only do you make on average $18,000. More a year, practicing your craft, we have greater equity in inclusion in Union apprenticeships, we have safer working conditions, there's a higher level of home ownership, it sounded like for union members, and we give back to the community. So I'm looking for this is amazing. It sounds too good to be true. Is there a downside to being a union apprentice?Frank Manzo:
Yeah, so so good question. The downside is you have to put in the work, because these are more rigorous programs on average, and generally speaking, than the non union programs. But But no, I mean, you know, the question often becomes, is, you know, this, you're paying workers more and and everything, doesn't that just mean that the cost is going to go up? Isn't that a huge downside to this, we're gonna have to pay more to build this infrastructure to, you know, to repair, you know, anything right to rebuild anything. So? And the answer, you know, really is? It's no, and the reason is, it's these apprenticeship programs. Okay. The union construction industry is no more costly than non union construction. And that's because, well, first of all, labor costs are a very small share of total construction costs around the United States. But it's really primarily because of these front end investments in worker training and productivity. That yeah, that boosts productivity and efficiency and allow workers to complete jobs right on time, the first time and save money on job sites, you know, union workers in general, do their jobs smarter, safer and more efficiently. And again, that's directly due to these registered apprenticeship programs.Joe Cadwell:
Well, I've seen it on hardhat stickers, and it looks like it bears out in reality, skilled labor isn't cheap and cheap labor isn't skilled. And Frank Manzo. I sure do appreciate you taking the time to be on the show to talk to us today about union apprenticeships. If people want to reach out to you or find out more about the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, how would they go about doing that?Frank Manzo:
Yeah, again, thanks for having me one more time, Joe, and happy to come on any other time to talk about these and many other studies of which you can find at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute's website, or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts, all of which we have, but the website in particular is WWW dot Illinois spelled out Illinois epi.org. And there are focus areas on that website. So if you wanted to look specifically at apprenticeship training, that's there if you want to look at prevailing wage, that's their responsible bidding and things like that those are also on the website. Again, a lot of the work about half of the work is construction. We specialize in the construction industry. So I encourage your your audience to take a look at our website, see who else we worked with and and take a look at our studies and because I think there's a lot on there that might be useful to to your membership and also your your listenership as well.Joe Cadwell:
All right, I'll make sure I put all that on the website. Again, Frank Manzo, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show, I guess days, but Frank Manzo, from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, be sure to check out the show notes to find more information to help you dive deeper into the subject. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Joe Cadwell reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong. So I think we're good and like I say we can always do this again and we'll focus in on something else. I'm just happy we got through it man with the with the Internet. Your picture kind of kept fading a little bit. I was like oh noFrank Manzo:
That's why the one I mean obviously I'm hoping you're able to cut that or whatever that's not too difficult but that but it happened with with you and again it's obviously my internet but you kind of you faded a little bit and it looked like it paused and I was talking to nobody