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Workforce Programs Seek More Black Applicants

Advocates: More outreach necessary to improve outcomes

By Danielle M. Smith - Public News Service
The Tube City Almanac
April 03, 2023
Posted in: State & Region

Above: Dewitt Walton, vice president and program director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, talks to visitors during a July 2022 session. (Submitted photo courtesy APRI Pittsburgh, via Instagram)

Labor leaders in various industries recently celebrated the 85th anniversary of a federal law that laid the groundwork for registered apprenticeship programs in Pennsylvania and across the country.

However, a new report says not everyone gets a fair shot at these opportunities.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that Black apprentices are underpaid and underrepresented in registered apprenticeship programs. Dewitt Walton, vice president and program director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said the key to changing this is for more people to know what's available.

“The opportunities for life-changing careers in the construction and building trades, we have to increase the awareness of those opportunities,” he said, “and promote them in a more comprehensive and successful manner than we have in the past.”

Walton said the institute has been approved as Pittsburgh’s first Black-owned, state-certified pre-apprentice program for the skilled trades. He noted that it received a Pennsylvania Smart Initiative grant of $400,000, and added that Pennsylvania is seeking additional grant dollars to boost diversity in apprenticeship programs.

Walton said 80 percent of people in the “Breaking the Chains of Poverty” workforce development program are African American, and from underserved, underrepresented or previously incarcerated communities.

The program provides training in financial literacy, conflict resolution, workplace ethics, workers’ rights, construction math, computer literacy and other job skills. Certificates offered include hazardous waste operations and emergency response, energy auditing, first aid/CPR, mold remediation, and PennDOT flagger certification.

The APR Institute works to build “real relationships with manufacturing, which the steelworkers’ union has a huge impact in, and particularly in Western Pa.,” Walton said. "We build out relationships with the construction and building trades.”

Justin Nalley, the center’s senior analyst for workforce policy, said apprenticeships have long served as a great “earn-as-you-learn” model in carving out a career. However, he added, there are some big gaps in opportunities for Black workers, including enrollment.

“Black apprentices only make up 9 percent of registered apprenticeship programs,” he said, “but we make up 12 percent of the workforce.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor issued grants aimed at modernizing apprenticeships and boosting the representation of workers of color in registered programs. Currently, about 600,000 people are enrolled in apprenticeship programs across the country.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation. Danielle M. Smith is a producer for Public News Service, where this story first appeared. An award-winning radio journalist/personality with more than a decade of experience in broadcast media, she is a former audio journalist with American Urban Radio Networks and Sheridan Broadcasting Networks who also hosts a weekly community affairs show “Good News” on WGBN (1360 AM/98.9 FM).

Originally published April 03, 2023.

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