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LiUNA-Sponsored Pre-Apprenticeship Program Expands to Help Youth, Ex-Offenders in PA

via Gene Walsh ―Times Herald

via Gene Walsh ―Times Herald

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The Montgomery County Opportunities Industrialization Center in Eastern Pennsylvania has expanded its focus to help disadvantaged youths. Through a new pre-apprenticeship program it is helping begin careers in the building trades. 

The new program is free for 17 to 21-year-olds in Montgomery County and allows them to earn Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certifications while attending a 16 to 20-week pre-apprenticeship that introduces them to a wide array of possible career paths.  The program is made possible by federal workforce and job development grants and is co-sponsored by Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA!) Local 135.  

The program has graduated 35 students since its conception and will begin its next cycle this month.  It was recently featured in The Morristown Post-Mercury. OIC Executive Director Denise Ashe explained why the program, which had traditionally aided adults, began to work with young people:

“We felt the need to start youth programs so we could get these kids before they got to a certain level and help them better themselves and want to go to school and learn so we wouldn’t see them when they became adults.”

The students receive daily classroom instruction and make frequent off-site visits to local union apprenticeship programs. Ashe explained the importance of ensuring that the participants join unions as part of their career paths:

“The union is the best way for these kids to go, because the union pays their benefits too, and gives them retirement plans … They teach them, train and license them. A lot of companies won’t take workers unless they’re union, that’s just the way it is now.  That union certification behind their name gives them a boost. Most of the time, union workers are paid a little more, and it gives them more of a partnership. It’s up to us to be teaching them what they need to do to get a good job, starting off at $55,000-plus a year.”

Recently the pre-apprenticeship program expanded to help ex-offenders at Montgomery County Correctional Facility prepare themselves for employment upon release.  Their training begins 90 days before their sentence ends.  By preparing them for employment before they leave prison, the OIC hopes to curtail any problems with recidivism that could arise immediately after they have served their time.  Ashe continued:

“We met with the warden and his staff so that the ex-offenders can be prepared to get a job by the time they are out and will be that much closer to being employed.  Our staff does the literacy training preparation for the test, and we take them to the union site for hands on training for them to see what’s going on. When they decide the trade they want they need to take an apprenticeship test. We have partnerships with the trade unions and the business managers so we have an idea what they’re looking for so we can prepare the students for these jobs, and their record won’t be held against them.”

OIC Director Denise Ashe explained the importance of changing priorities for the program that once exclusively assisted adults:

With a lot of the kids that we would see, we knew that all they needed was a push while they’re in school to help them out.  We know we’ve done our job if we can keep them in school, keep them educated and having that learning experience throughout the year. So we work with kids now all year round now so they realize they need to stay in school and stay focused.”


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