Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey knows the value of a union apprenticeship. A member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, Congress's only union electrician has a bill to help extend that opportunity to as many veterans as possible.
|The bill, introduced by Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, pictured, who is also a member of Folsom Local 351, passed in the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate.
Photo credit: Gov. Phil Murphy via Flickr
The Bringing Registered Apprenticeships to Veterans Education, or BRAVE, Act would require the Department of Labor to provide information about apprenticeship programs to members of the Armed Forces who are separating from active duty. It also calls for the establishment of a publicly accessible and user-friendly website where veterans can find the information they need and it extends post-9⁄11 GI Bill stipend benefits to participants in these registered programs.
In a rare congressional feat, it passed the House of Representatives unanimously on Nov. 16. The bill is currently awaiting Senate action.
"We provide America's servicemembers with world-class training to fulfill their responsibilities to our nation, and it is only right that we provide them with world-class opportunities as they transition back into civilian society," Norcross said. "The men and women of the U.S. armed services are highly skilled and uniquely qualified for registered apprenticeships, which allow apprentices to earn while they learn and build toward a fulfilling career in a skilled trade."
While college is a great option for some, for many others the opportunities afforded by an apprenticeship are a better fit. And for those who choose such a path, there are clear financial rewards to match the job satisfaction. According to the Department of Labor, 92% of apprentices retain employment after graduation and do so with an average annual salary of $72,000. By comparison, the average starting salary for a graduate of a traditional four-year college is around $55,000 a year. Further research by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found a union benefit as well, where apprentices of union programs tend to make more money and have more benefits compared to their nonunion counterparts.
There are currently programs like Helmets to Hardhats and the Veterans Electrical Entry Program to help servicemembers transition into construction careers, but not everybody knows about them, Norcross wrote in an op-ed for Roll Call. That is where the BRAVE Act comes in. It will connect veterans to resources that are eligible for Veterans Administration education benefits, ensuring that when they begin considering their next steps they're provided with up-to-date and easily accessible information about registered apprenticeships.
"I still take great pride in knowing I was a small part of building enduring monuments in my community. As an electrician and graduate of a registered apprenticeship, I worked to electrify the Ben Franklin Bridge — an iconic landmark used each day by thousands of commuters ... By participating in registered apprenticeships, our veterans can pursue careers that are meaningful in the sense of service but also beneficial individually," Norcross wrote. "From one apprentice to the future apprentices who I hope are reading this: Consider the trades. Your service to our country and community doesn't need to end just yet."
Each year, according to the Department of Labor, approximately 200,000 men and women leave the military and return to life as civilians. As the country faces a construction shortage, and with the passage of President Biden's massive infrastructure bill, tapping candidates from the military may become increasingly important to meeting workforce demands. While not all will want to pursue the trades, many will see the chance to move into a structured and physically challenging job as not only appealing but familiar.
"Many of our best apprentices have come from the military," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "They know the importance of discipline and professionalism, they're not afraid of hard work and they understand the significance of a brotherhood. We are more than happy to welcome them into ours and provide them an opportunity for the kind of career and benefits that can support their families for many years."