Bring back paid Apprenticeships
Chronic unemployment among black males is at 50% according to Columbia Professor Dr. Manning Marable. Chronic unemployment among white males is 20% according to author Charles Murray. The problem continues to escalate, yet politicians merely recycle the same failed policies to address it.
Good intentions alone are not producing successful results. Sadly, Obama and Cuomo have rehashed a failed job creation plan. The intent is to provide surety bonds to minority owned construction firms so they can compete in large public works projects, but they don’t address the number one problem these firms face – a lack of skilled workers from within these minority communities.
Without the necessary skilled workers these firms will fail to perform adequately and eventually default. Even worse, without skilled workers from disadvantaged communities, small or minority businesses become targets for the fraudulent practice of flushing payroll through their books. Not only does this undermine the spirit of the law, but recent government crackdowns resulted in enormous fines and even prison sentences for many contractors.
Solving chronic unemployment can only happen by addressing all the root causes, of which only one is surety bonding. The number one cause is the lack of skilled craftsman from within minority communities. Without men and women skilled in the trades, minority firms cannot perform the work, making it difficult for them to acquire a bond in the normal surety bonding marketplace.
The catch 22 that no one has addressed is how to hire someone with no on-the-job experience when no one will give them the on-the-job experience necessary. Workers from disadvantaged communities need training and on-the-job experience. Understandably contractors prefer to hire experienced workers, but without a program to incorporate disadvantaged workers, chronic unemployment will increase and strain society even more. It is time to reintroduce an abandoned program that has worked; the paid apprenticeship.
Businesses train their employees for the specific skill sets the market demands in order for the business to remain competitive. The process creates a reciprocal loyalty between both the employer and the employee. Most important, it is a proven method that has been employed for centuries in trades as diverse as blacksmiths, as cobblers and even law.
Some countries still employ successful apprenticeship business models. In Germany companies are encouraged to take on apprentices. No one can argue with the durability, construction and engineering of Mercedes Benz, Audi, and BMW, built by of workers in apprenticeship programs in which the private corporation has ultimate control in their training. Today unemployment in Germany is lower than it was at the start of the economic downturn.
Having witnessed the struggles of disadvantaged businesses, I know that surety bonding programs alone cannot combat our chronic unemployment problem. We must addresses why these disadvantaged businesses have difficulty receiving surety bonds in the first place.
Rather than offering taxpayer supported surety bonds, policymakers should incentivize companies to take on apprentices from within disadvantaged communities. Let’s integrate them into the American workforce. It is time to match our good intentions with good policy and revisit policies that actually deliver results.
Jim Kernan, President of Economic Cornerstone, has worked with the Maritime College in the Bronx to create apprenticeship opportunities for disadvantage communities for the past 25 years.