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WV Legislature Interim Report: Experts discuss the future of vocational education

Building and Construction Trades, Carpenters Training Center, Higher Education Policy Commission among those to testify

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Interim Committee on Labor and Workforce Issues met Tuesday to hear testimony from industry experts regarding the future of vocational training and education.

George Capel, Director of Government Relations for Building and Construction Trades of West Virginia, was first to present. 

“These are very timely conversations,” Capel began. “[Building trades] are very important in our world. We have a very tight knit relationship with our contractors – the folks who employ us, the business and industry – we work hand-in-hand with them.”

“It’s kind of inherently who we are,” Capel continued. “Our JATCs – Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees – these are the committees that govern all of our programs. Each craft-program has one. We have 12 craft-programs. Each one of them is regulated by the federal DOL (Department of Labor) and governed by these training committees.”

Capel explained that each committee is “made up half of labor – that’s us, our workers.” The balance of the committees consist of the employing-contractors.

“We work hand-in-hand with them to develop the program curriculum, determine the rate of pay, determine who gets accepted into the programs,” Capel added. “We work directly with contractors, and with business and industry to run these programs.”

“These (apprenticeship) programs offer a wealth of knowledge,” Capel noted. 

Capel further added that each program lasts on the average of three-to-four years, and is “the collegiate level of instruction in the construction industry.”

“We talk about encouraging people to go into the trades all the time, but I think as a society we can do better – and not telling people that the only pathway to success is a traditional two or four-year college degree,” Capel said, before suggesting the idea that apprentices be eligible to receive an associate degree upon the successful completion of a JATC-regulated program. 

Everett Johnson, director of the West Virginia Carpenters Training Center, was next to present, telling the committee, “In our training we have 30 different subjects that we cover. We start out with the very basics. We have people come in right out of high school and they have no idea of the dangers that they’re potentially walking into when they go into the construction field.”

“Then we’ll start with the educational stuff,” Johnson continued. “Our second class is our interior-systems course. They (apprentices) get 40 hours of training – they go out on the jobsite. They’ll take the trainings and the technical studies and they’ll apply that in the field.”

According to Johnson, instructors are trained at the Carpenters International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, noting that, “There are a whole lot of classes they have to take in order to learn how to be teachers.”

“Our ultimate goal is [for our apprentices] to walk away with an associate degree,” Johnson concluded. “Our training is top-notch. Our International Training Center spends about $3 million a year on developing curriculum, and that goes out across all of the brotherhood (United Brotherhood of Carpenters).”

In response to a question from Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, regarding the possibility of adding “business management” to the current training curriculum, Johnson told the committee, “The curriculum that we have is what we have in place. Business management is something that we can certainly look into. But when it all comes down to it, it’s all about funding for us.”

At the conclusion of Johnson’s presentation, Matt Turner, executive vice-chancellor of administration for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, provided the committee with some insight as to what type of associate degree could potentially be applicable to a JATC-regulated apprenticeship program. 

“It’s something called the Associate of Applied Sciences – Occupational Development,” Turner said. “Those come in a variety of directions and in partnership with the trades, and also with the employers who are one of the federally-registered apprenticeships.”

“I think it’s quite clear from hearing these two gentlemen speak today that we share the same goal of providing high-quality training,” Turner continued. “But also with that formal credential – the associate degree. It provides them a well-rounded education that helps to attract and retain employers.” 

“I can tell you that in West Virginia, we have set a statewide post-secondary attainment goal,” Turner added. “And when I say post-secondary attainment, that is not just a two-year or four-year college degree. That is formal education beyond a high school diploma.”

“But I do believe that we can work together to overcome some of these hurdles,” Turner said.

No further sessions are scheduled until after the Nov. 8 general election. Therefore, the Interim Committee on Labor and Workforce Issues will reconvene between Nov. 13 and 15. 

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