Two IBEW locals in Pennsylvania were awarded state funding exceeding $1 million for their apprenticeship programs.
“This funding is a testament to the strength and necessity of our apprenticeships in the state,” said Third District Vice President Dennis Affinati. “With these grants, our locals can expand their reach and provide our second-to-none training to even more people, which not only meets the growing demand for trained electricians, but provides a solid, middle-class career opportunity to more Pennsylvanians.”
Wilkes-Barre Local 163 received two grants, one for $446,247 and one for $297,000, while Reading Local 743 got $287,895.
Local 163’s larger grant will serve a total of 96 people, 40 of whom will be from underrepresented populations. It’s part of Wolf’s PAsmart initiative, which aims to increase the number of registered apprenticeship programs in nontraditional industries, as well as to reach underserved populations such as women and minorities.
“Throughout history, apprenticeships have been a vital part of career education in certain fields,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release announcing the funding awards for Local 163 and 13 other recipients. “Through these important grants, we are offering more Pennsylvania workers opportunities to train for family-sustaining jobs while helping businesses develop a workforce that will strengthen our economy and the communities most in need,” Wolf said.
Local 743’s grant is through the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, or DECD, and will help provide training for more than 85 electrical industry apprentices across five counties.
“The electrical industry has created a significant demand for qualified electrical workers in our five-county area, and with the support of the DCED, our apprenticeship program will expand enrollment,” said Local 743 Training Director Ed Bernitsky. “In an ever-changing industry, we can provide the most state-of-the-art training while our apprentices earn a fair wage and benefits.”
The money came about in part because of anticipated employment opportunities from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. Since then, Biden has also passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which promises even more jobs for IBEW members.
“We want to be proactive and not reactive in terms of all the projected work,” said Local 163 Training Director John Nadolny, who also led Wolf on a tour of the local’s training center in Nanticoke in September.
Nadolny said the program to reach underserved communities will be new for Local 163 and that they may even hire a professional to help them with the effort.
“We want to explore a lot of different ways of reaching these populations,” he said. “Younger generations, for example, don’t respond to mail or even email like older generations do. You have to be on social media, where they are, in order to reach them.”
Bernitsky said Local 743 will also use some of the funding for social media outreach. Other funds will be earmarked for items like expanded education on broadband, fiber optics, solar technologies and electric vehicle charging; an expansion of safety training; help with apprentice books; and instructor salaries.
Both locals hope to expand the number of apprentices they can accept, as well as their training capacity, to make it more state-of-the-art and hands-on, and said they are thankful to have a governor who has made growing apprenticeships a main focus.
“It shows that our current leaders in Harrisburg are committed to supporting registered apprenticeship programs in order to continue to expand the pipeline of qualified electrical workers by helping us train local residents in our area while they earn a fair wage and benefits,” Bernitsky said. “It creates a better quality of life for our community.”
According to the Department of Labor, 92% of apprentices retain employment after graduation and make an average annual salary of $72,000. The average starting salary for a graduate of a traditional four-year college, by comparison, is closer to $55,000 a year. And research by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found a union benefit, with apprentices of union programs tending to make more money and have more benefits than their nonunion counterparts.
“It can be hard to find people. You have to get creative,” Nadolny said. “A lot of people don’t know about apprenticeships, that it’s a great career and offers a living wage with excellent benefits and a retirement plan. We want to get the message out to people who don’t know about us, and these grants will help with that. It’s a perfect fit for what we need, and it is much appreciated.”