Detroit has been through tough times, but Local 58 Business Manager Michael Richard thinks the comeback has started. The challenge is for the IBEW and other building trades to take advantage of it.

An estimated $5 billion is expected to be spent on new construction projects in southeastern Michigan during the next three years, the most notable a $627 million arena that will house the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.  

Detroit Local 58 member and first-year apprentice Voncaira Williams said the MUST program has “changed my life.”

“This city is having a revitalization,” Richard said. “It’s important for us that the kids that live in this city have a chance to learn a trade and take part in it.”

Richard is one of the leaders of MUST – Management and Unions Serving Together – and it includes the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and its contractors. It began a campaign in September to add 1,100 apprenticeships in Detroit’s building trades during the following 12 months. Potential applicants can go to just one site [] that provides information about apprenticeships in each building trade. It also connects them directly to training centers.

All this is coming when an aging work force is eyeing life after work. For instance, 40 percent of Local 58’s members will be eligible for retirement during the next two to five years, Richard said. It has added about 150 members in 2015 and is looking to double that in 2016, MUST spokeswoman and Local 58 Business Development Director Jennifer Mefford said.

At least 51 percent of the workforce on any project within the city limits that accepts public funds or tax credits must be Detroit residents. The $250,000 initial campaign started on Labor Day weekend and includes radio and television ads, billboards and bus wraps. The MUST campaign built upon the successful marketing of Local 58 and its Labor Management Cooperation Committee.

“We’re looking at a big hole to fill and this is just a portion of it,” Richard said. “For us, it’s just worked out great. Not just in feeding our apprentice program, but it’s huge for my organizers out there in the field doing the work.”

Videos prepared for the Internet and television feature seven apprentices from various trades who grew up in Detroit explaining how an apprenticeship helped change their lives.

Local 58 second-year apprentice Percy Redd (second from the right) appeared on a public affairs program in Detroit to discuss the apprentice-recruitment program. He was joined by Patrick Devlin, secretary/treasurer of the Michigan Building & Construction Trades Council and campaign co-chair; Donna Pardonnet, executive director of the Architectural Construction Trades Council of Michigan and campaign co-chair; and Carol Cain, host of “Michigan Matters” on WWJ-TV.

Percy Redd was featured in a television interview about the campaign. He grew up in Detroit and worked a succession of nonunion jobs involving electrical work for nearly 20 years before securing an apprenticeship with Local 58. He’s now in his second year and praises the Access for All class, a pre-apprenticeship program in which would-be apprentices learn what skills they need to improve. The class allows all applicants to learn if construction work truly is a career for them, Redd said.

“With so many people retiring, we need apprentices that want to work and be in this for a lifetime, make this a career,” he said. “We don’t want people jumping up and deciding after a year, this is not what I really want to do.”

“You can drive around this city and see construction going on everywhere,” added Redd, now working on a construction site at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “It’s an excellent time to get in. You’re going to get all the experience you need in class and on the job. Downtown is flourishing in ways you really can’t imagine.”

Voncaira Williams, a Detroit native, echoes those thoughts. She served an apprenticeship as a tool-dye maker at a nonunion employer. But when she was invited to begin a Local 58 apprenticeship, she jumped at it.

“The support system they have is a lot better,” she said. “At my last plant, when I was doing my apprenticeship, there really was no support. They just kind of threw me to the wolves.”

Like Redd, Williams is working on a construction project at the Michigan-Dearborn campus. She’s thankful to be partnered with a woman who is an experienced journeyman wireman.

“It’s helped a lot,” Williams said. “She knew how to handle yourself on a job site and what to look for. She kind of looks out for me.”

Mefford said Local 58 is a leader in the MUST campaign because it has had a strong recruitment and apprenticeship program for years. But combining with other Detroit-area building trades allows it to better get the word out, especially in a time when so many new apprentices are needed.

 “It’s all about telling our stories with a stronger, collective voice,” Mefford said. “It’s exciting to me to see all our trades and associations starting to become much more active in telling their stories and getting them out there like Local 58.”