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How Pre-Apprenticeships Increase Diversity in the Plumbing Industry

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Female plumbing instructor teaching apprentice

Apprenticeships are a widely recognized step to becoming a plumbing professional, especially for those who want to start or switch careers because apprenticeships pay while learning.

However, not everyone who’s interested in starting a career in plumbing has the resources to secure an apprenticeship. They may lack the industry knowledge and networking opportunities it takes to get there. Or, even if they find one, they may not receive the same level of training because of their gender or ethnicity.

Because of this, they may find success in a pre-apprenticeship, which is a program that equips people with skills, information and strategies to succeed in an apprenticeship. These programs may be offered by community organizations, high schools, labor organizations, workforce agencies or community colleges.

Unequal Access to Quality Training

In its paper “Here to Stay: Black, Latina and Afro-Latina Women in Construction Trades Apprenticeships and Employment,” Chicago Women in Trades shares stories from women who experienced barriers to entering the trade. These include “lack of information about opportunities in the trades, how to access those opportunities, stereotypes about what is appropriate work for women, and outright opposition to women in the trades from some co-workers.”

Even those who were accepted into apprenticeship programs reported they didn’t receive the same level of training and work experience as their male counterparts. This lack of training can lead to lower wages and fewer career opportunities after completing the apprenticeship program.

Just how bad is the lack of diversity in apprenticeship programs? A report by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) states that women only made up 9% of active apprentices in 2020. Though the number of Black and Latina women in apprenticeship programs has increased in recent years, a small number of a small number always equals a small percentage. That is to say that the chances of a Black or Latina woman working with another person with a similar background is extremely low. This low representation can cause feelings of isolation and the sense that there are no role models with whom you can identify.

If the plumbing industry wants to overcome the labor shortage, it needs to create a welcoming and encouraging work environment for all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or abilities.

Increasing Access to Plumbing Careers

This is where pre-apprenticeships come in. According to Tallo, a pre-apprenticeship may be beneficial for people who:

  • Want to explore a career in plumbing without committing to years of training first.
  • Are looking for plumbing knowledge and skills to distinguish themselves from other apprenticeship applicants.
  • Wish to start their career in a safer, more inclusive environment.
  • Want hands-on experience even if they’re too young to apply for an apprenticeship program.
  • Need support services from programs that offer free childcare, transportation and career counseling.

Though this is usually an unpaid program, some people may even receive credit toward their apprenticeship program after completing a pre-apprenticeship. But if you already have knowledge and skills in plumbing or want to earn a paycheck while training, you may be better off starting in a traditional apprenticeship program.

With the trades experiencing a severe labor shortage, the plumbing industry can’t afford to ignore the opportunity of recruiting a new, diverse set of talent. Let’s take a closer look at why plumbing apprenticeship opportunities aren’t always a level playing field and how pre-apprenticeships help reduce obstacles.

What Makes a Good Pre-Apprenticeship Program?

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Starr Delgado of HBI instructing apprenticeship student

As a pro already in the industry, you can play an active role in encouraging people of all backgrounds to enter the trades. But before directing people to a pre-apprenticeship program, make sure it’s one that’s recognized for its credibility and quality. The DOL has outlined six criteria you can look for in a high-quality pre-apprenticeship:

  1. Base their training around industry standards and are approved by a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) partner.
  2. Give students hands-on training or volunteer opportunities that don’t take work away from paid employees.
  3. Have agreements with RAP sponsors so students can enter into a RAP directly after completing the program.
  4. Focus their recruiting efforts on underrepresented populations — such as women, people of color and people with disabilities — to increase industry diversity and inclusion.
  5. Offer support services, such as childcare and transportation, to help participants complete the program.
  6. Actively promote registered apprenticeships to other employers.

And you can direct those who are considering a career in the trades or who are looking for an apprenticeship to our careers in plumbing resource center.

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