Certified Apprenticeship Programs are only for union contractors, right?

I spend a great deal of my time and energy disputing the disastrous mainstream belief Apprenticeship are only for union contractors. It’s human nature to make assumptions for things we don’t have complete understanding of.  


The same is true in my world, especially when it involves concepts  that aren’t commonly heard of, like Apprenticeship programs, compared to programs like internships. 


Everyone knows what internships are; when you hire a student or trainee to work for your company, (sometimes without pay and for a short period of time). The benefit for the worker is to gain work experience and build up their resume.  




When I ask someone if they’ve heard of a registered Apprenticeship program, which in my opinion is superior and more effective than internships, first there is that confused look in their eye and then they ask, “Isn’t that just for union construction?” or “Do I have to join a union to be part of something like that?”  


Twice within the last two weeks this happened to me;


First was a contractor who is doing Prevailing Wage work.  I explained to him what an apprenticeship program is and how it can help him save a great deal of money.  His response: “joining this program doesn’t mean we become union or anything like that right?” 


The other was when I was a panelist at a national convention in Nashville.  The moderator made a comment that he found funny “now Michael, I hope we aren’t going to have to join the unions to do this.”  


This is so wrong, so wrong.  


If there is only one thing you take away from this article, it is this:

Registered apprenticeship programs ARE NOT a union thing, they really aren’t just a construction thing either.  They are a Workforce Development thing!


Unions have been very powerful for a long time. One of the first things they got right was that training their workers would ensure success with the signatory companies.  


There are some apprenticeship programs that have been active with unions for over 100 years and since they have the financial structure in place, they can hire 20,30 to 50 apprentices at one time.  


Apprenticeship programs are governed by the New York State Department of Labor (NYDOL) and would not and could not exclude any company, regardless of their size, from participating in a program to becoming a “Sponsor” of an Apprenticeship program.  


They want as many companies to be a part of these programs as possible.


A “Sponsor” is “an employer or union or group of employers or  JATC, which has the ability to train apprentices and is recognized as such by the Commissioner through the registration of a program.”  


Simply, let’s say you’re a grape, and the unions are a watermelon. Yes, the watermelon is bigger but at the end of the day you are both fruit and are entitled and will be treated the same by the Department of Labor. The DOL doesn’t care if you are a watermelon or a grape, they are looking for fruit.  As much fruit as possible, because this means more opportunities for workers.


Back in the late 1980’s/early 1990s, some of your fellow open shop contractors followed the path and became Sponsors of their own programs.  This gave many individually owned construction companies the opportunity to incorporate a customized, formalized and internal training program for their workforce.  


As of 2021, close to 30 non-union companies, across both Long Island and the 5 boroughs,  have active programs that started before 2000.  


By the end of 2021, we are looking to  reach over 100 active Sponsors.  Many of these Sponsors have more than 1 program associated with a trade.  


We all know what trades are, it’s what you do best – electrical, plumbing, glazing, general labor, etc.  Regardless of the  kind of work you and your workers do on a consistent basis, there is a training program for it (and if not, one can be created). 



These programs are very structured and consist of both on-the-job (OTJ) training and classroom education.  They aren’t just for a few months; these programs are anywhere from 2-5 years long.  They are designed to be long term workforce development programs within your company.


When done correctly, you will improve your company’s overall performance, increase retention and build a crew of well-versed and well-trained workers for years to come.  


It doesn’t matter if you’re a union company or not, everyone needs  to develop their workforce, including you.  


That is why I created my company and why I am a part of the CMC Workforce and Network Team, to educate and advise companies like yours through the policies and procedures put in place by the NYDOL to ensure that you become an active Sponsor and develop a workforce for the future.


  • Apprenticeship Connections is your bridge to the world of apprenticeship. Our goals are simple: we guide individuals who want a career in the trades, we support employers by helping them launch an apprenticeship program, and we are the glue that connects the apprentices and their sponsors.

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