Apprenticeship Programs in the Construction Industry
Many specific fields exist within the construction industry, demanding a majority of the incoming workforce to be trained and maintain the skills necessary for a specific area of work, such as carpentry or engineering. One method of training individuals with the skills they need is through apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships are a time-honored approach to training skilled-workers through on-the-job training, as well as classroom instruction. An apprentice will operate under the supervision of a skilled worker on a jobsite, and also take classes, while enjoying a graduated pay scale that assures that the apprentice’s salary reflects the degree of skill they achieve.
Apprenticeship programs are generally run by employers, jointly by employers and unions, or by groups of employers. The New York State Department of Labor registers the programs and training funds may be available for some programs. Advantages to operating an registered apprenticeship program include: readily available source of trained workers; economical advantages due to low cost resulting from sponsors incurring the cost of classroom learning; reduced turnover; establishment of mutually beneficial employee relations; and public recognition within the industry.
The first step in the process of registering an apprentice training program is to contact a Department of Labor representative specializing in apprenticeship opportunities. (New York State Department of Labor – Apprenticeship Training).There is no cost for program registration, and the Department of Labor will assist in program design, paperwork completion, application submission, and also provide ongoing operational assistance. Classroom instruction is required for each year of the apprenticeship, and registered employers in the construction field who have been awarded public contracts will pay apprentices a prevailing rate, which is a substantial savings to the employer.
There are many areas of specialization that are available for apprenticeship, including: bricklayers/masons, carpenters, design drafters, electricians, HVAC mechanics, iron workers, pipefitters and steamfitters, plumbers, and welders. All of these programs require a term of months for completion of the apprenticeship, available from the Department of Labor, and usually range between 36-48 months.
Apprenticeship programs require apprenticeship agreements to be filed with the Commissioner of Labor. Under N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 810-818, an apprenticeship agreement is: 1) an individual written agreement between an employer and an apprentice; 2) a written agreement between an employer or an association of employers, and an organization of employees describing conditions of employment for apprentices; or 3) a written statement describing conditions of employment for apprentices in a plant or plants where there is no bona fide employee organization. Suggested standards for apprenticeship agreements include: a statement of required hours for completion of the apprenticeship (N.Y. Lab. Law §815(1)), which will be of a reasonably continuous employment; statement of the processes in the trade and the amount of time spent on each process (N.Y. Lab. Law §815(2)); a statement of the number of hours in work and also the number of hours related to classroom instruction (N.Y. Lab. Law §815(3)); a provision stating that the apprentice will be selected based on qualifications alone (N.Y. Lab. Law §815(5)); a statement of the progressively increasing scale of wages (N.Y. Lab. Law §815(6)); as well as provisions for probationary periods and transfer of obligations to another employer.
Relating to the bidding process, a lowest responsible bidder is defined as a bidder that is responsible, morally worthy, skilled, possesses judgment, integrity, and sufficient financial resources. Picone v. City of New York, 176 Misc. 967 (Sup 1941). In determining the responsibility of bidders, state agencies will often review a bidder’s record for failure to make good-faith efforts to provide employee apprenticeship opportunities through registered apprenticeship training programs. Furthermore, in the specification for bidding on public contracts, the specifications must be definite and certain enough to foster real competitive bidding, and may not be written in such a way as to shut out or reduce true competition. For instance, some specifications which have been found to be invalid include specifications which establish preconditions to the award of a contract, such as that the contractor have an apprenticeship training program. Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. v. City of Rochester, 67 N.Y.2d 854 (1986) (where it was held that preconditions to bidding are valid only if the precondition was expressly authorized by statute or local law prior to September 1, 1953). However, in George F. Kolsch, Inc. v. New York City School Const. Authority, 211 A.D.2d 680 (2nd Dep’t 1995), it was held that under N.Y. Pub. Auth. Law §1734(3)(a) there is a requirement that bidders participate in apprenticeship programs for construction contracts with the city board.
In many municipalities there are now statutes requiring that contractors that are awarded public bids be registered with valid apprenticeship programs. Contractors should therefore carefully read the bid package before submitting bids to make sure that all requirements are met. Failure to do so exposes contractors to the risk of their bid being rejected and potentially exposing a claim under the bid bond.