The latest two-year study by the Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, has found that Associated Builders and Contractors has an overall ABC graduation rate of 29 percent for its apprenticeship programs. Data was collected from the U.S. Department of Labor and state apprenticeship agencies. Similar findings were reported from the BCTD's 2003 study of the group.

The report reveals that only six of ABC's 80 local chapters sponsoring apprentice programs graduated more than 50 percent of its apprentices. But ABC says the numbers are misleading.

Anita Drummond in the national legal and regulatory affairs office of ABC says that the data pulled for the recent BCTD survey comes from the DOL, but it does not show graduation rates of ABC programs, just aggregate numbers.

“Nonunion apprenticeship programs are not subject to the same rules as union programs,” she explains. “It's apples and oranges to compare numbers between the two. They're not counted the same way.”

For example, Drummond says, if an apprentice decides to switch jobs or a trade, ABC is required to cancel his registration and re-register him with the new trade. This is not a requirement with a union program. ABC, Drummond says, is “merit-shop” for a reason; the apprentice chooses where he wants to work and receives an open opportunity and freedom in his trade.

“It takes longer to become a plumber than a lawyer in some states,” says Drummond. So if a knowledgeable, experienced craftsperson can obtain his journeyman's license before graduating from an apprenticeship program, in ABC he can decide to leave, thus not graduating.

ABC CEO Kirk Pickerel believes that today's construction industry and its employees demand more flexible training modules and other methods of recruiting and training for incoming members to the trades, including cross-training to advance in the industry.

“Apprenticeship is a valuable tool in training the workforce of the future,” Pickerel wrote to PM last year, “but it is not the only way.”

In the 2003 study, the BCTD presented a policy recommendation of establishing maximum cancellation rates. But ABC thinks that would work against the industry's best interests by shutting the door to nontraditional candidates.

“Tightening entry restrictions, in order to meet some predetermined outcome, can only hinder efforts to attract the nontraditional candidate,” Pickerel wrote.

The move toward job training and education by the Bush administration has resulted in its High Growth Initiative objective, which works to increase job education and re-training in order to meet the needs of growing industries. High on the list is the construction trades, which is expected to add another 1 million net jobs by 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both the BCTD and ABC were on a committee in the initiative's planning and fact-finding stages to discover the needs of the industry, and possible routes to effective recruiting and stability in the trades.

Some of the campaigns for the High Growth Initiative include advertising at baseball games, Internet sites, public service announcements, and coverage at the local levels through high school and college visibility with scholarships and programs.

Drummond hopes a common ground can be found between union and nonunion groups: “We're all in need of filling the jobs in the industry with qualified people, and offering them an advancement opportunity.”