Joshua Johnson, state director of the Wisconsin Apprenticeship Program, is famous for saying, “apprenticeship is for everyone.”
However, recent numbers suggest the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated racial disparities in the construction industry, and retaining Black apprentices in that industry may pose one of the state program’s biggest challenges to date.
Apprenticeships, paid training opportunities that can last three to seven years, represent the primary way people interested in construction careers become journeyworkers in trades such as plumbing, bricklaying and electrical work.
Based on state Department of Workforce Development statistics, the share of minority construction apprentices in Milwaukee fell from a high of 17% in 2009 to 15% last year; the share of Black construction apprentices fell from 9% to 5%.
Efforts to increase the numbers of historically underrepresented groups in the construction industry come amid concerns about whether there will be enough skilled laborers for construction and renovation projects in the decades to come.
According to 2019 Census data, 87% of the housing stock in the city of Milwaukee was built before 1980. For all of Milwaukee County, that figure only drops to 82%.
Here are some of the challenges facing recruiting and retaining Black apprentices.
2020 hit Black apprentices in the construction industry hard
A report that examined union-affiliated apprentice programs for more than 15 trades in the Milwaukee area found…