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Brandon Dippner, CCS Building Group, runs conduits and wires at a mock craft competition at ABC Keystone in Manheim. 

This is a two part story, part one overviewed PAsmart Job Training and Next Generation Industry Partnerships grants and focused on the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board (WDB)’s award. This story centers on ABC Keystone Chapter’s and Lancaster General Hospital’s grant awards.

ABC Keystone is one of the convening partners of the Next Generation grant, but has also received their own separate award which provides overlap with the Workforce Development Board’s. They are a trade association that represents more than 550 contractors, suppliers and affiliates in an 11 county area. The Keystone chapter is one of 69 across the country, and their footprint ranges from Franklin County in the west towards Chester County up to Schuylkill County.

Stephanie Larkin, vice president of education, safety and workforce development, says their mission is to be the leading authority in the construction industry by promoting and protecting free enterprise and construction and competition, providing gold collar careers through education and training and expanding business development opportunities.

 “The building and construction industry is desperate for workers and was affected to a great degree by the recession. Those folks who would have typically retired during the recession were unable to and they’re now at a point where they’re going to leave en masse. The industry is facing the need for a lot of workers, and they need them to have generally a certain level of skill to be safe workers. Pre-apprenticeship is one of the ways we can provide that foundational understanding for construction trades.”

Pennsylvania Department of Labor defined standards for pre-apprenticeship in November 2017, and ABC Keystone has received state approval as a registered pre-apprenticeship program. Programs don’t have to be registered with the state, but there are benefits – one of which is the ability to receive grant money.

Having already been recognized as an approved program, rather than being in the midst of the registration process, may have helped ABC Keystone secure their grant, but also of value is the fact that they have been offering pre-apprenticeship training since 1998. In addition they were already working to increase partnership opportunities. Furthermore one of the considerations of their plan is the intent to work with returning citizens, a focus area for both state and federal governments.

The award will be used in two distinct capacities. ABC Keystone’s first prong is that there must be a solid understanding of how pre- and registered apprenticeships work.

“ABC has been working on expanding the number of partnerships they have with K-12 or higher education institutions and community based organizations, in part to explain not only registered apprenticeship, but how we can provide pre-apprenticeship opportunities and partnerships,” says Larkin. “We saw the grant as a way of utilizing state funding to expand opportunities in schools and community organizations.”

Without education and promotion K-12 and community organizations don’t become partners. Open houses are one way they plan to reach a larger audience of prospects, and two are planned during the course of the grant, the first as a large outreach to educators.

Training is the next step after prospects have been identified from three groups, youth population, returning citizens and underemployed, recruited through the K-12 districts and the WDB which serves all three groups. Other partnerships are also being developed.

Application and recruitment criteria will be discussed with the partners during initial meetings and while the total number of trainees may be higher, 20 people will receive training paid for by the grant.

“Some of those receiving grant training may require additional support to get education and employment and without that would not have had the opportunity. That’s really why the partnership with the WDB specifically is such a big deal. They can provide that supportive service that allows folks entering this program to be more successful,” explains Larkin.

Pre-apprenticeship curriculum, called CORE is the first six months of the registered apprenticeship course developed by the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) which develops standardized courses and portable credentials.

While not trade specific “CORE curriculum is foundational to every trade we offer a registered apprenticeship in,” says Larkin. “It covers basic safety including OSHA [Occupation, Safety and Health Administration], introduction to construction math and hand and power tools, introduction to construction drawing, basic rigging – how to safely remove materials from trucks, basic materials handling – how to move them around the site and communication and employability skills. At the end of the CORE curriculum they are a safe, competent basic laborer.”

The goal for both pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship is to supply a pathway for success and employment. “Pre-apprenticeship is a great way to provide someone the opportunity to be employed and then continue their education through an employer who will sponsor their registered apprenticeship,” says Larkin.

Right now ABC Keystone has more than 360 apprentices in seven different trades.

The third Lancaster County grant was awarded to Lancaster General Hospital to create a registered apprenticeship program for building maintenance technicians and a pipeline of experienced maintenance staff due to the expected retirement of many on their facilities workforce.

Kurt Stillwagon, Lancaster General Hospital director of recruitment and talent, echoes ABC Keystone’s description of skilled labor issues when he explains, “The need is to fill a skills gap. We have an aging workforce in facilities, not just at LGH but in the community as well. A lot of our skilled professionals are starting to retire. We’re looking to replace them and build a pipeline. There are students coming out of programs, however, they don’t have the on-the-job experience that is really required for these types of roles.”

LGH’s job descriptions for these particular positions specify five years of experience. “It’s difficult for us to find someone with that experience in comparable facilities,” he says. “Candidates typically don’t jump around in these roles. Once hired they tend to stay put so it becomes pretty hard to find that higher skill level. Programs have the graduates and that’s where we have to fill the void.” When candidates with the right background and experience do exist, competition to hire them is fierce.

Current employees will bridge the gap by acting as mentors and helping oversee and train the apprentices, creating a qualified pipeline ready to step in when openings occur. Two apprentices will be on site from the fall through June of next year. When the apprenticeship is completed there will hopefully be an opportunity to be hired fulltime and advance as well.

While an apprenticeship program in facilities might seem very traditional Stillwagon emphasizes that it isn’t as facilities maintenance or maintenance mechanics are really jack-of-all trades. “They help out in all areas of the facility, but aren’t specialized in any one area.” Specialized repairs are referred out.

LGH is partnering with Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology’s maintenance program to build their program. Communication between LGH and Thaddeus Stevens will consider the curriculum and its application within LGH’s facilities, how it’s contributing to success, pertinent skill sets and additional skills and knowledge needed. This is the next step after students have graduated and are on the job. “We might have new technology in our facility – or old technology. There might be completely new buildings or remodels that we’ve done to combine new technology with old facilities. This will help guide the curriculum,” explains Stillwagon.

“We also work pretty heavily with the Workforce Development Board and will partner with them going forward to help spread the apprenticeship program’s success with other local businesses,” he continues.

Stillwagon says the grant will help them get the program established, and depending on the outcome plans to continue the program in the future, working with the WDB to help replicate it in other businesses with similar needs.

For LGH the planets aligned to bring this grant to fruition, but it’s also a testament to Lancaster and the resource sharing, cooperation and collaboration between businesses, education and community organizations. “We all started hearing about the needs at the same time and started a conversation,” says Stillwagon. “Everything fit with what we needed to accomplish, and it wasn’t just one person involved. I think this would be a challenge to do in other places. Lancaster’s so community oriented.”