On September 13, West Virginia State Building Trades representatives were invited to the state capitol to speak about the future for apprenticeship training programs in the state.
One of the major topics of discussion was related to associate degrees for apprentices upon completion of their programs.
WVSBT Government Relations Director George Capel and WV Carpenters Training Coordinator Everett Johnson attended the Interim Committee on Labor and Workforce Issues to testify to lawmakers about the challenges faced by the trades and the importance of apprenticeship programs.
During the presentation, Capel gave an overview of how union craft apprenticeship programs operate and their significance in terms of West Virginia workforce development.
“These are timely conversations,” said Capel. “With all of the federal infrastructure money coming into our state, apprenticeship programs are vital to ensure we maintain a skilled labor pipeline to the construction industry.”
Capel went on to explain that one way to increase interest in apprenticeship is to offer associate degrees to apprentices who complete their programs; an issue the trades have been working on for years.
“Our programs are truly the collegiate level of instruction in the construction industry,” said Capel. “There is no reason why apprentices should have to complete additional schooling upon completion of their apprenticeship programs to be awarded an associate degree.”
Everett Johnson of the West Virginia Carpenters shared his experiences directing the WV Apprentices Pathway Degree program and the obstacles he faced trying to get associate degrees for his apprentices.
Johnson explained that requiring students to fill out Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms to quality for state funding created an obstacle for the program.
“The biggest issue was with funding,” said Johnson. “Students were forced to fill out FAFSA forms to qualify for state funding, but many parents would not sign the forms for various reasons.”
The state funding went to paying apprentices’ tuition at Potomac State, the college they were enrolled in to receive their associate degree. However, students under 25 must have the signature of a parent or guardian.
Because of this, many students were unable to complete the forms and were unable to receive funding to stay in the program.
“Our ultimate goal is for our apprentices to walk away with associates degrees,” said Johnson. “I believe the state shares that goal with us. However, issues like funding must be addressed for that to happen.”