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Apprentice program a good step for Tampa | Editorial
Building good-paying jobs and a healthier labor market must be a priority.
Instructor Jeff Marotta, right, measures a conduit bent by Shyler Morgan, left, during training at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 915. First-year apprentices are introduced to the terminology and learn basic trade skills. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Instructor Jeff Marotta, right, measures a conduit bent by Shyler Morgan, left, during training at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 915. First-year apprentices are introduced to the terminology and learn basic trade skills. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 17

A proposed apprenticeship program for the city of Tampa provides an opportunity to strengthen the local labor market in ways that benefit the entire community. The measure, before the City Council on Thursday, would require the use of apprentices on some big city projects. The new rule could provide a boost for younger workers and deepen the pool of skilled labor across the Tampa Bay area.

Under the ordinance, at least 12 percent of the labor hours performed in a trade for which an apprenticeship or on-the-job training program exists must be performed by apprentices. The measure would apply to city construction projects worth $1 million or more, and at least initially, only to “vertical” construction, or above-ground projects, such as buildings, as opposed to roadway, sewer or other ground-level improvements.

Local governments across the U.S., including St. Petersburg, have adopted these measures, citing a variety of benefits, saying they help train the next generation of skilled laborers, including electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, and offer non-college bound students a path to the middle class. Luis Viera, the Tampa city council member who has worked on the ordinance for the past year, says the legislation will help steer more younger workers to good-paying construction jobs while strengthening an industry key to regional growth.

Tampa’s proposal is more moderate than what many cities have pursued. Its 12 percent minimum, for example, is lower than St. Petersburg’s 15 percent, and it does not include set-asides for “disadvantaged workers,” or those whose educational or personal histories have posed barriers to employment. The ordinance includes provisions for contractors to seek “good faith” waivers of the requirement, and the mayor could waive the rules in emergencies.

This incremental approach is the right way to start. The mayor would report on the program at least annually, citing the companies participating, contract amounts and number of apprentices impacted by the ordinance. The city would also examine whether companies failed to meet the goals, and explore ways to bring more contractors into compliance. After its first year, the ordinance would be expanded to cover “horizontal” construction projects, including roads. This is a thoughtful strategy that gives the private sector time to prepare while the city institutes its oversight process.

The ordinance is a meaningful, timely opportunity for younger workers and the region alike. America’s skilled labor force is aging, and with older workers retiring, the construction trades are expected to experience faster-than-average job growth through 2026. The median annual wage for all construction and extraction occupations was $47,430 in May 2019, higher than the median wage ($39,810) for all industries. And the sector’s growth will only increase as Florida’s population continues to rise and as cities, states and the federal government combine to repair America’s infrastructure.

Tampa’s ordinance works hand-in-hand with the many efforts by school districts, unions and private employers to advance the appeal and professionalism of skilled trades. On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the Hillsborough County School District and Hillsborough Community College were among the 37 educational institutions and private training entities awarded $10 million to start or expand registered apprenticeship programs. Tampa’s measure would help keep the bay area competitive, and its impact would be felt in everything from higher incomes and more stable employment to higher quality and more resilient construction projects. The council should adopt this solid, balanced ordinance, and look in the coming year to maximize its potential.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.