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ABC training helps construction industry maintain competitive edge

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Running a profitable construction business is challenging, especially given today's shortage of skilled workers, rising costs, competition and rapid changes in technology.

Keeping the construction industry strong has never been more critical - it builds the structures in which we live and work, the highways and roads we drive, the schools and universities where we send our children, the churches in which we worship, not to mention our parks, power plants, shopping centers and stadiums.

Fortunately, the industry has an organization working on its behalf to ensure contractors have the resources they need to survive and prosper in this difficult environment.

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC), has been dedicated to helping its members maintain their competitive edge for more than 55 years nationally and since 1976 in San Diego. With 80 chapters and nearly 24,000 member firms across the country, ABC is the industry's most powerful force for promoting and protecting open competition and the rights of merit shop contractors.

ABC membership offers many benefits; training is among the most important benefit, and it is one of the cornerstones of ABC. To understand why training is such a crucial investment, you only have to look at the industry's ongoing struggle to find qualified people at both the craft and supervisory levels.

Company owners are continually frustrated by this dilemma because they know hiring quality workers is the key to their ability to increase productivity, control costs and grow their businesses. They know their bottom lines depend on reducing employee turnover and absenteeism, while increasing safety on the job and instilling loyalty toward the employer.

ABC San Diego provides employers with an outstanding resource for training workers to become highly skilled through two separate training programs: registered apprenticeship and craft training. These structured skilled-trades programs, along with a variety of continuing education classes, are offered to construction industry workers throughout San Diego and Imperial counties at ABC's 47,000-square-foot state-of-the-art training academy in Poway.

Registered apprenticeship helps employers maintain a competitive edge

A study of apprentice graduates and other craftworkers in six cities shows that apprenticeship training gives construction workers a significant advantage over those trained on an informal basis. Graduates were better skilled, more productive, safer and more likely to become supervisors than non-apprenticed craftworkers.

This has been the experience ABC San Diego has had with its state-registered apprenticeship programs in electrical, sheet metal (HVAC), plumbing, pipefitting and low-voltage electronic systems. These programs are approved by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards and meet all requirements for contractors performing prevailing-wage work.

ABC's Apprenticeship Training Program is effective because it produces versatile workers who have been taught all aspects of a trade. The program combines the employer's on-the-job training with ABC's lab and classroom instruction, which is needed to progress in the trade.

Apprentices also learn to interact with a variety of different people in actual working situations and become familiarized with the overall scope of a company's operation and organization.

Graduates of the San Diego apprenticeship program earn their California Journeyman Certification as well as academic college credits and certificate leading to a degree from the San Diego Community College District. Our program is also approved by the Veterans Administration for Veterans Education Benefits.

Companies can enroll their existing employees in our apprenticeship programs and ABC may also be able to refer potential apprentices to companies for employment. We work with high school and community college counselors, local minority and female community groups, and the media to recruit quality candidates who are interested in construction careers.

ABC's craft training offers flexible training options

One of the most exciting developments at ABC is the growth of our Craft Training Program. This a great option for contractors who may not be interested in a registered apprenticeship program, but who want their workers to receive skill training to make them better and safer employees.

ABC provides craft training opportunities in the areas of electronic system technician (low voltage), electrician, plumber, pipefitter and sheet metal (HVAC). Students enrolled in the program also earn San Diego Community College credits for successful completion of classes.

Craft training in at least one trade - electrical contracting - is going to become increasingly important. Beginning as early as January 2006, the state will require that all electricians working for a C-10 electrical contractor be certified to work in the field. In order to be certified, electricians must meet eligibility requirements. Registered apprentices are exempt while in the program. However, others who do not meet eligibility requirements, or have failed to take or pass the certification examination, will be required to enroll in an approved training program for electricians in order to work independently. ABC recently submitted its electrician program for approval by the state and we fully anticipate approval.

Whether it's apprenticeship or craft training, I've been privileged to attend the graduations of thousands of outstanding men and women over the many years I've been with ABC. I am always excited to see them embark on the next phase of their lives, equipped with the tremendous skills they learned through ABC training programs.

What is most enjoyable is to see them use their skills not only to become better and more dedicated craftspeople, but in many cases to watch them grow to become project managers, superintendents or business owners. For workers and company owners alike, the construction industry is one of the few areas left where the American Dream is possible for those willing to work hard and improve themselves.

At ABC, we're pleased to play a role in that process by providing our members the tools they need to succeed and grow. We are honored to help build a better construction industry - and a better America.

Yarbrough is executive director of ABC Apprenticeship Training Trust.

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