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Associated Builders and Contractors of the Carolinas
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic upended a lot of business and educational practices. Fortunately, Associated Builders and Contractors of the Carolinas was already planning for changes in how it delivered instruction in its electrical apprenticeship program, and the 11 apprentices in its 2020 class were able to finish on time.
ABC Carolinas’ members had been asking for remote-learning options to accommodate apprentices who were traveling for work, said Sara Breeggemann, director of workforce development for the trade group, which represents construction-related businesses in North and South Carolina. Even though planning for remote learning was underway, “COVID really forced our hand,” she said. “Luckily, last March our instructors were able to very quickly pivot to doing their classes via Zoom.”
The organization continued the hybrid learning model into the fall. Apprentices are divided into two groups: A and B. They attend classes two nights a week. One night they receive in-person instruction and the other they log into Zoom. While group A is in class, group B is remote, and vice versa. The classes are taught by licensed electricians who work for ABC-member companies.
Currently, 220 apprentices are in the program. “There has been a learning curve for apprentices and their employers as they have adjusted to online instruction,” Breeggemann said, but “for the most part, our apprentices really like it.”
ABC Carolinas has had an electrical apprenticeship program for 12 years. It is a four-year program requiring 8,000 hours of on-the-job learning and 576 hours of related education.
The organization has seen significant growth in its apprenticeship program in recent years and is expecting to graduate 30 apprentices in 2021, its largest class ever, Breeggemann said. The growth is welcomed because the construction workforce is aging, “and we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t recruit some younger ones,” she added.
ABC Carolinas has been focusing on educating middle and high school students about careers in construction. “It’s not so much the kids we have to educate, it’s the guidance counselors and the parents,” Breeggemann said.
The organization impresses upon students, educators and parents that construction is a well-paying, viable career, and apprenticeship provides the on-the-job training and classroom instruction necessary for success, she said. Apprentices also learn communication and employability skills. And they earn state and national certifications signifying their skills and knowledge.
“Apprenticeship is a tool to use to hone your skills and learn more and be better,” Breeggemann said. “And when we all do that, that’s only going to make our industry, or whatever industry it is, better.”
College isn’t for everybody, either because of interest or cost, she added. Apprenticeship provides a different path to a good career, providing workers with valuable skills and certifications. “When you can do that and work and still come out making more money than your friends who went to college,” she said, “I think that’s a pretty good argument.”