Benefits are Many
If you are not taking advantage of a registered apprenticeship program, it is probably because you have heard the common narratives that discourage pursuing registering a program: “It’s too complicated,” or “I don’t have enough people to warrant a program,” or “The record-keeping is too cumbersome.” There are likely many more reasons, usually often repeated by someone that has no factual knowledge of apprenticeships.
To have a registered program, you would simply have to modify the on-the-job (OTJ) training requirements to suit your company’s needs. As far as the related training aspect, one of the reservations many have in pursuing a registered program is the cumbersome process of developing the actual curriculum for a program. Fortunately, this is one of the processes that has already been completed for your program. There are many AFSA members and readers of Sprinkler Age who already take advantage of the AFSA training curriculum. This excellent program has been approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for use in all 50 states, so why not take advantage of the next step of registering your program?
Although classroom training can be a positive aspect of apprenticeship training, there is currently no requirement for classroom training at the federal level; the apprentice can train on his/her own time, thereby taking advantage of the “distance learning” of correspondence courses. In addition, an apprentice in a registered program is not required to be paid for the time they expend on their training. Without a registered program, if you require an employee to take a course or training of some kind, you very well could be in violation of some wage and hour provisions if you’re not paying that employee during those training hours.
Obviously, having a registered apprenticeship program gives one an advantage when pursuing Federal or State prevailing wage projects. In many states, and on approved Federal work, apprentices are paid a percentage of the posted journey worker wage, including the applicable percentage of the fringe benefit amount. In other words, they receive their classification amount of the total package. Another positive reason for registering a program is the looming efforts to push licensure of sprinkler fitters in many states. Quite often one of the criteria for a license in a particular state is the requirement for having completed a registered apprenticeship program. While in some places (states) this is already a requirement, it will surely be a prerequisite for any new laws that might be forthcoming. More importantly, having a registered program gives a company the opportunity to potentially hire better candidates, as these candidates will be more likely to want to improve their skill levels in order to advance their status. Also, some veterans may receive additional financial benefits when entering a registered program.
Registering an apprenticeship program may be easier and more beneficial than you think. While clearly relevant at the federal level, and for the most part at state levels, you don’t need a minimum number of employees to have a registered apprenticeship program. I have seen programs with as few as five employees.
Also a major concern of many is the process of establishing a minimum journey worker wage. While the DOL does establish the percentages by class for each apprentice, the DOL does not establish the journey worker wage on which these percentages are based. For example, a first-class apprentice would be paid 50 percent of the journey worker’s wage, a second class would be paid 55 percent, and so forth. This wage, usually based on an average of what you pay your employees classified as journey workers in your company, is established by you, not the DOL! While there are specific requirements for interviewing and hiring for apprentice positions, the truth is, these requirements are really nothing more than good hiring practices. The same can be said for the record-keeping process. If set up properly from the beginning, the record-keeping is easily maintained and would prove to be a huge asset in the event of a DOL audit of your program.
On-the-Job Training, or OJT as it is commonly known, is often the only way many in the field learn the craft. With a registered program, the OJT is structured to ensure that, upon completion of the program, your employees have been exposed to and mastered all levels of the different aspects of the industry. The specific OJT elements can be tailored to your specific business. For example, if in your state underground fire mains are not installed by sprinkler contractors, then those underground fire mains may be excluded from the OJT requirement. Yet another great thing about being a member of the AFSA is the fact they offer a simple form for you to use in tracking OJT hours for your apprentices.
The last remaining criterion of a registered program is the evaluation process. With most programs, an apprentice must be evaluated by the foremen with whom they have worked on jobs, in any given six-month period. A positive evaluation, plus working a minimum number of hours in the six-month timeframe, and having successfully completed a pre-set number of lessons, are all that is required to advance to the next class of apprenticeship. This of course means an appropriate wage increase. Everyone knows that a wage increase is a positive motivator for the employee. When an employee knows they are going to receive a regular increase every six months, it is easier to maintain their motivation and enthusiasm for their job. While money is not the only motivator, it’s an important one.
Overall, registered apprenticeship works well for many companies, and should definitely be considered as an easy way to manage your employees and your OJT program.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dwight Green is president of Accredited Training Solutions, San Antonio, Texas. He has over 46 years of experience in the sprinkler industry and served on various sprinkler industry boards and committees including NFPA, CAFSA, and TXFSCA. Green is a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Certified Master Trainer, and is the co-author of the first and only US-DOL recognized apprenticeship program approved across all 50 states for a single company. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: AFSA’s federally approved apprenticeship training series for sprinkler fitters develops skills through formalized training that is cost-effective, skill-specific, goal-oriented, and can be designed to meet individual company training needs. AFSA’s Training Made Easy is a guide to help you set up and administer an effective apprenticeship training program. AFSA members with successful programs have contributed proven methods and experience to the Training Made Easy guide to help you get your training program started. In the back of the guide, you will find sample forms – an Apprentice Data Sheet and Testing Log, Unit Test Remarks, and an On-The-Job Learning Log – for your use. These forms may be duplicated for use in each apprentice’s file. More information and to order