Focus on Tacoma: Preparing residents for apprenticeships in the construction trades

Mayor Victoria Woodards: 'We’ve all got to be at the table together'

As the nation looks toward a post-pandemic economic recovery, WorkingNation is speaking with the nation’s mayors about job creation, training programs, and in-demand industries in their communities. In this article in the series, we Focus on Tacoma.

Like everyone, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards was not expecting a year like the last one. “If someone had told me when I first ran for mayor that in 2020, we would be facing the issues that we have faced and continue to face, I would have said that sounds more like a horror movie. Not real life.”

Giving credit to her counterparts in other cities, Woodards says, “Mayors who are closest to the ground with the people who have been hurt in this pandemic are leading in a very difficult time and are leading very well.”

“As we think about jobs and workforce, and people being able to take care of our families, we look at the myriad of issues – whether that is eviction moratorium, or the opening and closing of businesses, schools, daycares, all of that has an economic and workforce basis for the conversation,” says Woodards.

“We’re just a little bit of everything”

Woodards explains that there has been a variety of opportunities in Tacoma. “What I love about the city, we’re just a little bit of everything. We have white collar workers, blue collar workers, tech workers. So you can pretty much have your dream job here in Tacoma.”

“Our top three employment sectors are health care, government and FIRE [finance, insurance/IT, and real estate],” says Woodards. She also notes there is a military presence in her city.

The city has experienced deep loss during the health crisis, according to Woodards. “We’ve seen businesses that have been in Tacoma for 20, 30 years close, because of the pandemic. Our focus is really on trying to retrain those workers for whatever the emerging economies will be.”

She adds, “Obviously, our goal is to get our restaurants up and working, running again, trying to make sure that we are saving our small businesses by investing in them so they can invest in their employees.”

Collaboration among local stakeholders is essential to recovery, says Woodards. “Our Workforce Development Council is made up of people who own businesses in our community. It’s people from our local unions. It’s people from our education institutions. Collaboration is not something we just talk about. It’s something that we actually do because we recognize that we can’t do this individually, alone.”

Woodards points to a city initiative that has had strong outcomes. “Our Tacoma Training and Employment Program is a program that we put together with our local technical college. The idea is that we will train people in an apprenticeship program to be able to get a trade job with one of our local unions.”

Diversity and Inclusion is the Agenda

Katie Condit is CEO of WorkForce Central, the area’s federally funded workforce development system. “We have these really talented individuals who are finding themselves out of work and are struggling to assess where and how they may fit in or transfer those skills to another industry. We find ourselves bridging that gap between industries that continue to thrive and are hiring.”

Katie Condit, CEO of WorkForce Central (Photo: WorkForce Central)

Health care, manufacturing, and construction are continuing to add to their workforces, says Condit.

It’s paramount that opportunities be presented to communities that are not traditionally considered for jobs in these sectors, says Condit. Regarding diversity and inclusion, Condit says, “I would even say it’s not on our agenda, it is our agenda.”

Employers should share this agenda, too, she notes. “If they’re not thinking strategically about diversifying, then we’re missing out.”

Condit says apprenticeships are critical as people navigate paths to new careers. “We predict seeing a ton of funding coming out to support apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships. The reason they’re so powerful is because there’s living wage tied directly to both the education component and the training component. Individuals are taken in and are paid for classroom time and work time, and are getting hands-on skills, mentorship, and education while being paid.”

Training Continues Through the Pandemic

“The construction industry is still expected to grow 3% in 2021,” says Karen Dove, executive director of ANEW. The organization provides employment navigation, support services, placement, and retention services in family-wage jobs, explains Dove.

The focus is to prepare participants for apprenticeships in the construction trades, as well as manufacturing and maritime. As baby boomers move into retirement, there is a shortage of workers.

Karen Dove, CEO of ANEW (Photo: ANEW)

“Pre-apprenticeship is really about getting them prepared to meet the minimum requirements for an apprenticeship testing program. Most apprenticeship programs have a math test, a written test, an interview, and some of them have physical fitness tests. Our goal is to make sure that you could pass any apprenticeship program that you wanted to get into,” notes Dove.

“We work with people with a wide variety of backgrounds and we’re always teaching them to transfer skills from wherever they have them.  Some of the best candidates have come from food service or bartending because they are standing. They are active in their jobs.”

The normal pre-apprenticeship classes are 12 weeks, three days a week, totaling about 280 hours. Dove says. “We’re working with Tacoma to do a four-week, five days a week program that we call a bootcamp. At 160 hours, it’s abbreviated,” she explains.

“Best kept secret”

Calling the organization, a “best kept secret,” Dove says those who have gone through ANEW are given priority for apprenticeships because they’ve completed a pre-apprenticeship program.

“On average, across all of our programs, our placement rate is about 76%. Then our retention rate for everyone who has entered an apprenticeship in the last three years is 93%. The industry standard for year two and year three is about 60%,” says Dove.

(Photo: ANEW)

She also explains that hiring on public construction jobs is structured to be more inclusive. Consideration is given to people who reside in “priority-hire zip codes.” These include areas with lower income rates, lower employment rates, and lower educational attainment rates.

Dove encourages people who are interested in the construction trades. “Tacoma is growing so quickly that even outside of commercial work, there’s a lot of residential work happening in the area. There are definitely a lot of job opportunities, a lot of opportunities to get into management positions, or even to start your own business as a minority- or woman-owned business.”

Optimistic About the Future

“I believe we will emerge even stronger. It will not be without its problems and it will not be without us having to find solutions, but we will rise,” says Woodards.

“We will rise because we all want the same thing. As community members, we all want a great life for ourselves and our families, our communities, and the people who choose to call our city – home.”

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