IUPAT General President Rigmaiden Addresses EEOC

This week, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades General President Kenneth Rigmaiden was invited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to be a panelist for a meeting entitled “The State of the Workforce and the Future of Work.” He was joined one the panel by various other industry experts representing organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

“A thorough understanding of today’s workforce, the employment opportunities available, the challenges in the job market – all are critical to our work in the EEOC,” said Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic.

The meeting explored the various factors involved in training a workforce to meet the skills demanded by new types of jobs in the country thanks to new technology, and the new employment opportunities that must not be denied to those in the workforce because of discrimination and lack of access to training.

One of the main points raised by participants on the panel was the fact that apprenticeship programs serve as a vital pipeline for skills training and promoting diversity.

IUPAT General President Rigmaiden submitted written testimony on apprenticeships and how they serve to improve the socio-economics of our communities.  Read excerpts from that testimony below.

Chair Lipnic and distinguished commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on the future of work and filling the skills gap. I am honored and excited to discuss this timely and important topic. As General President of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), a building trades union whose members are the highly skilled men and women who painted the Capitol Dome and installed the glass exterior of the new Apple headquarters, I am constantly working to make certain our signatory contractors have the skilled work force needed to continue building and maintaining our communities and our infrastructure.  My remarks today will focus on the steps we have taken, and that our nation must undertake, to teach the skills that will lead to meaningful careers for our citizens.  The five key topics I wish to discuss are as follows.

  1. Apprenticeship programs provide an affordable education that do not leave their participants with one penny of debt. To the contrary, apprentices earn a living wage while learning the skills that will create a lifetime of opportunity.
  2. Apprenticeship programs are tied to work opportunities in a way that many other educational programs are not. If the U.S. government is serious about training that leads to jobs, it needs to use its purchasing power to drive apprenticeship utilization.
  3. Pathways into apprenticeship programs are critical to building up successful careers.
  4. The future of the construction industry is rooted in core skills, but assisted by technology; our apprenticeship programs are already working to stay ahead of the technology curve.
  5. The future of apprenticeship programs depends on continued government support and recognition that these programs are legitimate, accredited educational institutions.

Apprenticeship Programs Provide an Affordable Education

The IUPAT represents workers in the finishing trades, including industrial and commercial painters, drywall finishers, glaziers, glass workers, floor coverers, and tradeshow and sign craft workers.  Our members do gritty industrial work, blasting failing lead paint off of bridges and water tanks, and re-coating those structures with modern finishes that will extend their useful life.  They also do highly skilled new construction, installing glass exteriors that take advantage of modern materials that make possible the most energy efficient structures ever built. They apply the finishing touches; paint, wall coverings and flooring of all types, that make interior spaces both beautiful and pleasant places to work and live. 

IUPAT General President Kenneth Rigmaiden (second from right) prepares for his remarks at the EEOC meeting on the current state of the U.S. workforce.

Learning the skills needed to perform this work properly, safely and efficiently is not easy.  It takes not only classroom instruction, but also hands-on training to learn to work at heights, in confined spaces and utilizing ever-changing modern technology.  Our members must learn to remove and capture peeling lead coating before it endangers our children.  They must learn the sophisticated math needed to make sure the angles and fittings on a glass exterior of a modern skyscraper are perfect, resulting in a weatherproof, energy efficient structure that will last for generations.  They must learn how to apply the right coating for different surfaces that are located in different climates from Alaska to the Florida Keys, and be able to apply those protective coatings within a tolerance of a thousandth of an inch.  Moreover, our journey workers are never through learning.  The pace of change in our industries, as in our society as a whole, is ever accelerating.  Those who do not constantly learn new skills will be left behind.  We are proud to say that our members will not be among those who fall by the wayside.

This training is made possible by a web of apprentice and training funds, and the IUPAT Finishing Trades Institute International (FTI) leads the way.  FTI develops the standards and the curriculum used by local apprenticeship programs operated in each of IUPAT’s 33 district councils in the United States and Canada.

IUPAT DC 6 Apprentice Amanda Walsh (Ohio) on the job site.

The FTI and our local programs train approximately 15,500 apprentices each year.  This training is funded through contributions for every hour worked by our members under collective bargaining agreements.  Our members are willing to divert these contributions from wages, and our employers are willing to make this investment, because they realize that this skills training is what separates us from cut-rate competition and ensures that construction projects reflect modern building standards and existing structural and safety codes.

No apprentice pays a dime for this training.  In fact, most of their training is on the job, where apprentices earn a living wage.  It is an “earn while you learn” system that offers young people the chance to learn from the best-trained construction workers in North America.  When individuals complete our programs, they obtain a portable, nationally recognized credential that they can take anywhere in the country—one that comes with good pay and benefits to them and their families.  An additional important feature is that most apprenticeship programs in the building and construction trades have been assessed for college credit, which participants can apply toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

IUPAT, however, is not unique.  Our sister unions in North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) also operate similar programs for the craft workers they represent.  NABTU unions and their contractor partners operate more than 1,600 training centers in the United States. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of all registered apprentices in the United States work in the construction industry. Among construction apprentices, roughly 75 percent are enrolled in union sponsored apprenticeship programs.  Every year, building trades unions and their signatory contractors direct over $1 billion in private investments towards this educational system. When wages and benefits paid to apprentices are factored in, the annual investment exceeds $11 billion[i] To put this investment in perspective, if the Building Trades training system, which includes both apprentice-level and journey worker-level training, were a degree-granting college or university, it would be the largest degree-granting college or university in the United States—over 5 times larger than Arizona State University.

Work Opportunities Drive Training

The U.S. government is the largest purchaser of construction. In 2016, the U.S. government spent $22,515,000,000 on federally funded construction. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates 18 jobs are created for every million dollars of construction investment. This means that, using a normal ratio of three journey workers to each apprentice, each million dollars of federal spending creates a need for three apprentices.

In short, construction spending not only creates jobs; it creates educational opportunities that lead to good, middle class careers.  It does this at no additional cost, because apprenticeship programs are funded privately.  By building and re-building our nation’s infrastructure, we can also build the labor force of the future.

Pathway into Construction Careers

In order to create a conduit from high school to a career in the construction industry, we at the IUPAT are attempting to collaborate with school boards, the federal government and community groups to create pathways into our apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeship training programs, which prepare candidates for the rigors and expectations of the workplace, and the tree to five year commitment required to complete a registered apprenticeship program, are highly adaptable models that can serve diverse populations and circumstances. However, successful outcomes are highly dependent on the full “buy-in” and structured collaboration of all sponsor organizations.

Dorian Ward a 2nd year IUPAT apprentice learns to use a “Total Station” tool. “Total Station” is a cutting edge layout tool.

In Philadelphia, in conjunction with the school district, the IUPAT and the Building Trades have created a summer immersion program to enable inner city students to experience the construction industry, understand the value of a career in the industry and the process for application into an apprenticeship program. This collaboration has helped increased applications to apprenticeship programs and has created opportunities for students who may not have otherwise learned of the apprenticeship system.

In addition, since 1969, the IUPAT has continuously maintained National Training Contracts (NTC) with the U.S. Department of Labor National Office of Job Corps to provide pre-apprenticeship training and career placement services in our trades to disadvantaged youth ages 16-24.  Under our current contract, the IUPAT Job Corps Pre-Apprenticeship Program operates 44 training programs at Job Corps centers nationwide (both Forest Service and private contractor managed), comprising 884 training slots. During this long-standing partnership, the IUPAT has trained and placed thousands of young men and women in the finishing industries we teach.   These programs must be expanded, not cut, if the government is serious about closing the skills shortage and creating employment opportunities for those most at risk.

Another vital path to sustainable careers is by recruiting and training our veterans.  These heroes deserve not only our respect but also all the help we can provide as they transition back into civilian life. The IUPAT has worked hard to do our part. 

The Painters and Allied Trades Veterans Program in Seattle, Washington conducts a four-week pre-apprenticeship immersion course in Industrial Coatings Preparation and Application for transitioning military personnel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  Our partners in this endeavor are Camo2Commerce, Pac-Mountain Workforce Investment Board and JBLM Joint Forces Command. Candidates receive classroom instruction and hands-on training from journey worker instructors in industrial safety, rigging and scaffolding, sandblasting and surface preparation, brush/roll and spray coatings application. At completion, graduates earn an OSHA 30-hour card and SSPC CAS (Coating Application Specialist) Level 1 Certification.  Every transitioning veteran who completes the program is placed with an IUPAT-signatory employer and enrolled with a full year of credit in a registered joint apprenticeship program.  Since our first graduating class of June 2014, 36 of 36 graduates have successfully transitioned into full-time employment with a union-signatory contractor. Based on the success of the PAT/VP pilot program at JBLM, a template is in development for the use at other military bases around the country.

Future of the Construction Industry

In order to prepare apprentices for the 21st century work place, our members will need a myriad of skills.  We must leverage the latest technology to provide workers that can get the job done as safely and efficiently as possible.  Our glaziers no longer lay out a building using a tape measure, string line and a set of prints.   Rather, they now use a tool that can lay out an entire building using digital blueprints, GPS and lasers. 

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an intelligent 3D model-based process that equips architecture, engineering, and construction professionals with the insight and tools to efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.  Our training centers provide computer aided design (CAD), and other, innovative technology to our members. 

By integrating classroom and distance learning, workers can prepare for class from the comfort of their home with advanced curriculum delivery and learning management systems that will prepare them for more intense classroom and field training.  This type of e-training, blended with hands-on field training, allows our members to learn skills faster, retain knowledge longer, and apply skills to real-world projects with these ever-changing technologies such as BIM, robotics, drones and Total Stations, among others.


Jamie Wallace (center, gray sweatshirt) mentors students at Madison Park Technical Vocational School.

The needs of tomorrow’s workforce require us to adapt proven training programs. The IUPAT is working with our employers, industry partners and members to ensure that our training meets the needs of the market place, and that the delivery of that training meets the needs of the apprentice and journey worker. With apprenticeship programs driving skills training, we can meet current and future workforce needs. The U.S. government’s procurement process can help accelerate the number of apprenticeship slots available and, in doing so, can continue to drive the apprenticeship system to meet the market and technological changes happening in the industries and workforce they serve.

Chair Lipnic and distinguished commissioners, I look forward to answering your questions and continuing this discussion. A discussion that is critical for our economic competitiveness, the future of our workforce and the quality of the communities in which we live and work.