Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, second from right, meets with Washington, D.C., Local 26 Business Manager George Hogan, right,
NECA Government Affairs Executive Director Marco Giamberardino, left, and IBEW Political Department Director Austin Keyser during a visit of the local’s training facility.

Reps. Donald Norcross of New Jersey and David McKinley of West Virginia have introduced a bill to expand pre-apprenticeship training to help underrepresented individuals get into the building trades.

“My electrical apprenticeship set me on a path toward a fulfilling, family-sustaining career, and it ultimately led me to serve in Congress,” Rep. Norcross, a member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, said in a statement. “Today, many students may want to follow a similar, apprenticeship-based route, but are not afforded the opportunity to learn applicable construction skills.”  

Called the Pre-Apprenticeships to Hardhats (PATH) Act, the bill directs the Department of Labor to provide grants to support the development of such programs that assist populations that include people of color, women and those from low-income and rural areas. The grants would last for three years with the ability to be extended.

“In a time when wages are stagnant for a lot of people, the construction industry has a lot of good-paying jobs to offer,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Pre-apprenticeships are an excellent way to extend these opportunities to communities that are often overlooked.”

The construction industry is booming amidst a skilled labor shortage. US News and World Report. reported that 91 percent of contractors and managers surveyed in the Commercial Construction Index report having a difficult time finding skilled workers.

“America needs a well-trained workforce to help build our future, and apprenticeships are critical to our success,” Norcross said. “Some students want to go to college, while others want to build the college, and we need to be supporting them all.”

Women comprise only 6 percent of apprentices despite making up 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, according to the Department of Labor. Fewer than 7 percent of electricians are African American, according to Data USA, a website that sources government data. Comparatively, approximately 83 percent are white.

Boston Local 103 recently ran a targeted ad campaign to recruit more women and people of color, with promising results. The local received a record-breaking 687 applicants from the city of Boston, a 95 percent increase from the prior year.

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger op-ed last year, Norcross noted the stigma around apprenticeships versus a four-year college degree, as well as the lack of understanding found in Congress, where the former business agent is the only electrician in the 435-member House of Representatives.

“We should remember that our country needs electricians and computer programmers, just like we need doctors and lawyers,” Norcross said.

Reps. Norcross and McKinley co-founded the Congressional Building Trades Caucus in 2016 to educate congressional members about the building trades industry, including issues like the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires a prevailing wage on federal construction projects, project labor agreements and the value of apprenticeships.