Construction Career Training — Joint Labor-Management Apprenticeships

The Union Difference in Apprenticeships

Both the unionized and non-unionized segments of the construction industry offer apprenticeship programs.  Before applying, it is important to understand the differences between the two apprenticeship models.

There are more than thirty union-affiliated construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota.  Each are funded through a cents-per-hour worked contribution from employers that are negotiated through collective bargaining agreements. These contributions ensure stable financing for the Joint-Labor Management apprenticeship system which trains more than 93% of all active apprentices in Minnesota. Collectively, Minnesota’s unionized construction sector provides the “largest privately-financed system of higher education in the state.

It is estimated that “the 10 largest joint labor management construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota’s construction industry provide more than $600 million in long-run economic value – an economic return of $21 per dollar invested.”

In comparison, the non-union apprenticeship system is funded via voluntary contributions from employers or trade associations, with curriculum unilaterally determined and administered.  While there are several such programs in Minnesota, it is a comparatively smaller system because of the lack of an institutional financing mechanism like collective bargaining.

Average hourly wage for union construction worker in Minnesota
Average student debt for apprenticeship (compared with $30,000 average student debt for college)
of Minnesota Union Construction Workers have Health Insurance
increase in a construction worker’s career earnings because of apprenticeship

The Bachelor’s degree of the Construction Industry

Joint Labor-Management (union) apprenticeship programs have been called the “bachelor’s degree of the construction industry” because their graduates earn wages on par with other types of workers with college degrees and boost their career earnings in the construction industry by as much as $125,000.  In short, apprenticeship offers Minnesotans who do not wish to attend college, an alternative middle class career pathway.

Importantly, this is an opportunity that extends to ALL Minnesotans.  Joint Labor-Management programs train nearly 80% of Minnesota’s female construction apprentices, 83% of military veteran apprentices, and 95% of the industry’s non-white apprentices.  Notably, joint labor management programs train a higher share of African American and Latino/Latina apprentices than Minnesota’s 4-year public university system.

Average Hourly Earnings by Segment of Construction Industry or EducationAverage Hourly Wage
Union Construction$33.36
Nonunion Construction$25.35
High School Degree$20.61
Associate Degree$25.28
Bachelor’s Degree$35.03
Advanced Degree$42.12

Number and Shares of Enrolled Participants by Higher Education Program in Minnesota, 2017

Diversity of Participants Enrolled in Higher Education Classes by Program, Fall 2017Apprentices in Joint Labor-Management (Union) Programs in ConstructionNon-International Students in Minnesota’s Public Universities
Average NumberShare2017 NumberShare
All Higher Education Enrollment10,219100.0%87,891100.0%
Black or African American6836.7%5,4016.1%
Other Race (or Unknown)6776.6%11,53613.1%

So while joint-labor management apprenticeships are similar to colleges in many ways—including wages and racial diversity outcomes– they differ in several key respects:

  • Apprenticeships offer up to 41% MORE hours of job training than a bachelors degree program at a public university.
  • Apprenticeships do not require tuition and leave students entirely free of debt.
  • Apprentices earn a paycheck while they learn the in-demand skills needed to build a career in the construction trades.

Learn about Union Apprenticeship Opportunities

The Joint Labor-Management Apprenticeship system is the gold standard for career training in the skilled construction trades. Click here to learn more about union construction careers and tuition-free training programs that enable students to earn as much as $33/hour while they learn!

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What Construction Leaders are Saying

Midwest Economic Policy Institute’s research shows that union programs produce 93% of our state’s construction apprentices, and offer them considerably more training than a two- or four-year college. Upon graduation, participants are not only free of debt, they are also earning wages on par with workers in other industries that have bachelor’s degrees.” (Read more)

JASON GEORGE, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49

A recent study on Minnesota’s construction industry shed new light on these false assertions. It found that unionized construction workers earned 32% higher wages, were 43% more likely to be covered by private health insurance, were 24% more likely to have access to a pension plan, paid 48% more in state income taxes and were 13% less likely to rely on government assistance programs than non-union construction workers. (Read more)

JASON GEORGE, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 49