Hillsborough commissioners boost apprenticeship opportunities for young workers

They approve one program that targets young, low-income adults, another that would mandate apprentices on county construction jobs.
Commissioner Gwen Myers shown on the HGTV broadcast of the commission's Feb. 3 meeting.
Commissioner Gwen Myers shown on the HGTV broadcast of the commission's Feb. 3 meeting. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 17, 2021|Updated Feb. 17, 2021

TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners want to be sure on-the-job training is available in the county.

The commission agreed unanimously Wednesday to start a new program targeting low-income young adults for paid job training and accompanying classroom work to learn employment skills for information technology, financial services, hospitality, health care and other non-construction industries.

Separately, a commission majority supported writing a new ordinance requiring companies building county government construction projects to have 12 percent of their workforce filled by apprentices from state Department of Education-sanctioned training programs.

Both proposals will be considered at future meetings and subject to final votes before going into effect.

Commissioner Gwen Myers championed the program for low-income individuals, age 18 to 24, including people coming out of foster care or escaping human trafficking. Called Apprenticeship to Career Empowerment, or the acronym ACE, the proposal calls for the county and Career Source Tampa Bay to partner on the program along with private-sector employers. Participants would receive eight to 12 weeks of training with private companies as well as two-days-a-week of classroom work.

Details are still to be finalized, but the county intends to provide about half the funding for the program with Career Source tapping federal dollars to help offset the costs. A pilot program for 100 individuals would begin later this year with the potential for expansion in future years.

“We do not have a program like this in place in Hillsborough County. It’s going to be unique,” Myers said in an interview prior to the meeting.

She compared the effort it to the county’s nearly three-decade-old program to provide indigent health care.

“This is the same opportunity to grow and provide sustainability for those (18 to 24) looking for employment,” she said.

Top executives of Career Source Tampa Bay, the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, the Tampa Bay Chamber, Bank of America and Visit Tampa Bay praised Myers’ proposal.

Several noted the program would benefit the area’s job-recruiting efforts.

“It’s all about the talent. It’s all about the availability of that talent,” said Craig Richard, CEO of Tampa Bay Economic Development Council.

Others highlighted the importance of the program providing wages to the trainees.

“It’s great to be able to learn but you have to feed yourself and have a roof over your head,” John Flanagan, CEO of Career Source Tampa Bay, said.

The proposed procurement ordinance from Commission Chair Pat Kemp did not gain such universal acclaim.

Commissioners Stacy White and Ken Hagan unsuccessfully sought first to delay Kemp’s proposal and then to adopt a model used in Palm Beach County that offers an incentive policy reimbursing contractors for wages paid to apprentices. Both motions failed on 5-2 party-line votes.

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Earlier, Jim Junecko, business agent for Local 487-District 925, International Union of Operating Engineers, and Shawn McDonnell, business agent for IBEW Local 915, supported Kemp’s plan and said the incentive-based policy of Palm Beach County was ineffective.

But, Steve Cona, president/CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast, said his group is already training more than 500 apprentices in the construction trades and he called Kemp’s proposal an unworkable mandate.

Related: St. Petersburg approves mandatory apprentice program

Under the proposed ordinance, which still is to be drafted, the county would require contractors on county jobs costing at least $1 million to have 12 percent of the work done by people in state-sanctioned apprentice programs. It is mirrored after an ordinance in Broward County. The city of St. Petersburg adopted its own requirement in 2015 after a voluntary effort proved ineffective. The Tampa City Council is scheduled to consider its own proposed ordinance Thursday.

Related: Tampa seeks to require apprenticeships on large city projects

White said he sought to delay the Hillsborough plan because of a pending legal challenge to the St. Petersburg ordinance and because state legislators have filed a bill to preempt local governments from approving apprenticeship requirements in their procurement procedures.

“We need to be careful and not bite off more than we can chew in new initiatives,” White said.

But Kemp said the Broward County ordinance had not be challenged in court and legislators routinely attempt to circumvent local governments.

“They don’t believe in home rule, that’s for sure,” she said.

Part of the intent of the ordinance is to build successful career opportunities in the construction trades because of what Junecko called a “drastic shortage of next generation of construction workers.”

Support also came from a recent graduate of an apprenticeship program.

“I just feel a sense of freedom that I’ve never felt in my life,” said Timothy Bianco who said he completed a state-certified apprenticeship in April.