Detroit’s National Apprenticeship Week Makes a Case for #BlueCollarLife

By Renee Prewitt

The second annual National Apprenticeship Week #NAW2016, made a deep dive into the Metro Detroit region recently, and helped to move the apprenticeship needle from mystery to reality for many people who have never found a pathway into skilled trades. Throughout the week—Nov 14 to 20—a series of events took place that proved to be a huge opportunity for both sides of the employment pipeline: Employers who need to fill hundreds of skilled trades jobs benefited from the creative outreach, and those who can work these jobs learned what is required to be prepared for the challenge.

It marked the progression of a beautiful relationship.

apprenticeship_fact3National Apprenticeship Week was started by President Obama to showcase the many training and employment programs that are meeting the needs for a skilled trades workforce, and this year, there were more than 625 events nationwide. Here in Michigan, 28 employers, educators, industry associations, labor, and other partners hosted events to demonstrate how apprenticeships are an attractive career option for those who like to build things and are good with their hands. But, why the big push now?

There are more than 1200 skilled trades job openings throughout Michigan, and the need to fill the employment pipeline with highly trained labor has never been greater. The 2007 economic downturn, an aging workforce and an increase in retirements have created a void that employers are scrambling to fill. In addition, huge infrastructure projects, downtown development and other new ventures like Little Caesars Arena and the Gordie Howe International Bridge require a steady source of carpenters, ironworkers, electricians, cement masons, brick layers, operating engineers, and others to build these structures.

The Partnership for Diversity and Opportunity in Transportation (The Partnership) served as the clearinghouse for NAW locally, promoting a range of events throughout the week on our social media channels and traditional media. We would like to thank everyone who helped to put NAW on the map by contributing their time and expertise, and helping to connect the dots between the people, apprenticeship programs and employment opportunities that currently exist in the skilled trades:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-36-31-amRobert Davis, Senior Advisor, MDOT, talked about how business benefits when they hire apprentices on Small Talk with Mark S. Lee. 11/13, 9am
  • Robert Davis, Senior Advisor, MDOT; Dannis Mitchell, Diversity Manager, Barton Malow; and Eric Garrett, Cadillac Asphalt apprentice, talked about “the other four-year degree” on American Black Journal. 11/13, 9:30am and 11/16 6:30pm
  • Kevin McDonell, Training Coordinator, Ironworkers Local 25, spoke to students at Golightly High School, and while many said they planned to go to college, he let them know that if they changed their minds, they could apply some of their college credits towards an apprenticeship program. 11/14, 1-2pm
  • Naheed Haq, Coordinator, SEMCOG/MAC Talent Task Force, published a blog, “Apprenticeships: The Other Four-Year Degree. 11/14
  • The National Association of Women in Construction invited me to be their guest speaker to talk about National Apprenticeship Week and how it raises awareness among women and minorities about opportunities in the skilled trades. In fact, their announcement was featured on the National Apprenticeship Week website! 11/15, 8 am
  • MLive published an article about the week’s events. The article was shared 218 times. 11/15
  • Robert Davis, Senior Advisor, MDOT appeared on The Pulse with Karen Dumas, live radio talk show, and discussed pathways to apprenticeships. Nov 16, 5 pm.
  • naw-blog-photoTony Kratofil, Metro Region Engineer, and MDOT provided a Skilled Trades and Apprenticeships Information Center at its I-94 Open Houses so that people who came, also learned about resources like Detroit Employment Solutions and Access for All. Both pre-apprentice construction jobs programs will prepare them to enter trades and work on the project. 11/16 and 11/17
  • Barton Malow’s Dannis Mitchell led the implementation of an Apprenticeship Expo at Randolph Technical & Career Center, where more than 70 people met face-to-face with local unions and employers looking for people to hire. That post made it to the national site too! 11/17, 5-7pm
  • Aaron Price, Vice President and General Manager of Cadillac Asphalt wrote an article for com and talked about the success of FP3, the company’s pre-apprenticeship program it launched with Local Laborer’s Union 1191. To date, CA has hired about 20 Detroit area unemployed and underemployed residents. 11/18
  • Cyrill Weems, Senior Vice President and the team at Plante Moran CRESA gave students a behind-the-scenes tour of The District Detroit, the $2 billion new development project in downtown Detroit, featuring speakers from engineering and the skilled trades who discussed their roles in its construction. It was covered by WXYZ-TV. 11/19, 11-1pm
  • Tiffany Gunter, Deputy CEO at the RTA talked about next steps for the Master Transportation Plan at the Charles Wright Museum’s “Meet the Scientist” program, and what it could mean for the region’s future engineers and skilled trades employees. 11/19, 2-4 pm
  • screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-10-36-54-amI was a panelist at an educational symposium, 2016 Prep for Success, hosted by Fox 2’s Huel Perkins. I mentioned a recent episode of the ABC comedy, Blackish, where middle-class, professional parents Dre and Rainbow were disappointed that their son wanted to be a plumber instead of a doctor or lawyer. It wasn’t easy to say this to a roomful of people who came to learn about educational success strategies for their children, but I took a deep breath and said, “College isn’t for everyone, so why not consider skilled trades—the other four-year degree—as a career option?” Like Dre and Rainbow, some of the parents wanted to know more about the growing significance of this career path that starts with hands-on career training and could lead to management and entrepreneurship. 11/19 11:30am-12:30pm

There were so many more activities that took place, but the bottom-line is that National Apprenticeship Week helped to elevate the buzz around #bluecollarlife and #NAW2016. As this region continues to reinvent itself, it is good to know that more Detroiters will be a huge asset in rebuilding the city. One day, these men and woman will point to a structure and proudly say the words that are becoming the D’s newest catchphrase, “I built that.”

Renee Prewitt is President of The Prewitt Group, a strategic communications firm and is a member of The Partnership, the clearinghouse for all 2016 National Apprenticeship Week events. The Partnership sponsors the one-stop website for apprenticeship information and training programs,