Samuel DiPaola said that in his previous
position as training director for the IBEW, he would send out
literature and go to career fairs and high schools to tell students
about construction trade apprenticeships. He found that students
were all getting information at school about two-year and four-year
colleges, but they were not getting information about training
programs in the trades available right out of high school. "Students
were not getting access to information on how to get into
apprenticeships," DiPaola said.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights
has found that the percentage of minorities in construction fields
is lower than their representation in the total population. For
example, DiPaola said, minorities make up 30 percent of the
population in Hennepin County, but less than 10 percent of
The problem of too few students knowing
about the option of apprenticeships is a combination of schools not
getting the word out and a feeling by parents that they don't want
their kids going into construction jobs. "It's a parent
issue," DiPaola said. "They don't understand that today the
construction trades are highly technical fields. But parents are
reluctant to push their kids in that direction. They think those
jobs are beneath them. It's absolutely not true."
The construction trades' efforts to get
students to apply for apprenticeships are not working. "We were
not getting people walking through our doors," DiPaola said. The
students who were applying had family members in the trades or knew
somebody in the trades or in an apprenticeship program. "They knew
what it was," he said. "Nine times out of ten, it was word of mouth
and, only very rarely, a teacher, the school or a parent." He said
that was true of all construction trades.
The other disconnect is that
apprenticeships are under the state Department of Labor (DOL) and
education is under the state Department of Education (MDE).
"They don't talk to each other," DiPaola said. "Because
apprenticeships are handled by the DOL and are driven by employer
training, they're not put in the same category as the education you
would receive in a two-year or four-year college."
People view apprenticeships as something
for people who can't make it into two-year or four-year colleges.
"That couldn't be further from the truth," he said. Kids who are
developmentally or educationally challenged and can't do basic math
can't make it in apprenticeships, either. "The kids the schools were
sending us could barely make it through ninth-grade math and
couldn't read at even the sixth-grade level," he said. "They can't
learn advanced electrical concepts or advanced plumbing. You have to
have a certain amount of physics and science to do these types of
DiPaola is working to start a grade
six-through-14 chartered school that would start introducing
students in junior high to basic construction concepts and continue
a general overview of the construction trades through 12th grade.
He hopes to locate the school in Minneapolis and to have 30 to
40 students at each grade level. Its sponsor is Innovative Quality
Schools, a single-purpose chartered school authorizer.
The school would use project-based
learning and the students would interact both with their instructors
and with community experts, DiPaola said. "There will be a lot of
interaction with the real world and also a curriculum based around a
general overview of the construction trades," he said. "We'd give
them the relevant math, reading and sciences." By the time they
reach 12th grade, they'll be ready to apply for an
apprenticeship, if they choose. "We'll help them get into that right
out of high school," he said. "We'll make sure they have the right
skills to pass the entry-level aptitude test for an apprenticeship.
And we'll give them a basic knowledge of the industry." He'd like to
be able to get juniors and seniors into summer internships.
DiPaola said the school would be an
especially good fit for technically minded kids and kids who like to
build things. The school's focus would be on getting students into
jobs right out of school and not so much on getting them into
four-year colleges. "I see apprenticeships as the starting point,"
DiPaola said. "A lot of kids don't have money for school, so the
idea would be to get them into a working career early on. They get
their hands into the industry. If they decide they want to continue
their education to higher levels, their employers will send them to
school." And, he said, a lot of contractors started in
apprenticeships and worked their way up through the trades.
He said if students decide the new school
is not for them, they'd have been studying the relevant core
curriculum for grades nine through12, so they could easily move to
An interviewer asked if it would be better
if the school were a Minneapolis district school rather than a
chartered school. DiPaola said he realizes that it will take
constant marketing to recruit students for the school and to bring
in corporate sponsors. "You have to convince companies that this
school is going to generate a workforce that will be trainable when
they finish school," he said. "It's going to be a challenge. But
being in the charter setting and not under the Minneapolis umbrella
will give us the freedom to do it the way we want to do it."
The proposed chartered school will have
some licensed teachers, who will work in tandem with community
experts. The school will have to meet the state requirements for
core curriculum, DiPaola said, so the school will be hiring licensed
teachers in areas like math and English. "That doesn't mean we can't
have industry professionals come in and work with those teachers,"
he said. "It'd be a combination in a cooperative environment,
building the curriculum with the licensed teachers and the industry
professionals. I don't see that as being an issue."
DiPaola doesn't think finding instructors
for the new school will be difficult. "I envision stealing industry
professionals and getting them to teach," he said. "There are tons
of technical training specialists out there who would love to do
this type of work."
Training in the school will not be real
training for work, but will aim to get the students into
construction careers. Like Construction & Career Academy, a
similar, very successful chartered school in Rhode Island, the
Minneapolis school would not be preparing students for construction
licensing exams, DiPaola said. Instead, it will prepare them so
they've met the state's core curriculum requirements and can walk
into any apprenticeship program and pass the admissions test. Grades
six through 12 would be a career awareness program that also teaches
students the math, science and reading skills they'll need for their
apprenticeship programs and careers.
The school could also offer companies the
ability to have their people trained in grades 13 and 14. "We
could tailor special classes in grades 13 and 14 and create
apprenticeship programs within the school," DiPaola said. On one day
a week, the school could deliver to students the content employers
want and four days a week, students could work at a job, he said.
The companies would pay the school for these special classes, which
would create a revenue stream to help the school. He said the school
could also offer classes to help people keep their licenses.
"We would not only be supporting the
student to get the job, we would also be supporting the employer to
help keep their people trained," he said. "We could tailor that to
whatever their needs are." For the main part of the school, the
grade six-through-12 portion, DiPaola said funding would come from
the state and from corporate donations.
You're not going to succeed at anything if
it's not something you want to do. "That's why kids are having
such a hard time in school today," DiPaola said. "They don't see the
relevance. They're not enjoying it. They're sitting in these classes
thinking, 'What does this have to do with anything?' But if you get
kids into a school where they say, 'I want to do this; teach me
this,' they're going to be like a live wire, alert, on fire, wanting
to do it. You've got to get kids to find their interests early, in
sixth or seventh grade."
Today, we're pushing kids into two-year
and four-year schools and we're not helping them focus on what
they'd like to do for their careers. "Kids are ending up in
two-year schools and they're wallowing," DiPaola said. "They show up
for their classes wondering how they are relevant to what they want
to do with their lives. And they're spending $50,000 a year
wondering why they're taking these classes."
"We had many people applying for
apprenticeships when they were 25, 26 or 28, who wish they had done
that when they were 18," he said. They've gone to college, are
$100,000 in debt and can't find a job.
Apprenticeships are not just for
construction, but could be used for anything. DiPaola said there
could be apprenticeships for physicians, dental hygienists and
teachers or for any industry. "Any career is mainly learning the
trade," he said, "learning the aspects of the job, learning the
technical pieces and putting it all together."
A lot of construction workers are going to
retire soon and we have no way of filling all those positions.
DiPaola said the average age of construction workers now is 45 and
people can't keep doing construction when they're 65. "There's going
to be such demand within the next 10 years," he said. "There's going
to be a point where there will be a huge loss of labor through
retirement, but we're not filling those jobs as quickly as we were."
"There is so much need for construction
around the country," he said. "There's so much repair that needs to
be done. We have an infrastructure that's falling apart. I guarantee
you that within 20 years, construction jobs are going to be gold.
People are going to be wishing they'd gotten into the field early
There is room for at least 400 new
apprentices each year in the construction trades in the metro area.
While he was with IBEW, DiPaola said, the organization brought
in 60 to 65 new electrical apprentices each year. In addition, other
construction trades, such as plumbers, pipefitters, HVAC, tile,
cement, carpenters, equipment operators and ironworkers, have
similar numbers of apprenticeship opportunities each year. So kids
graduating from the new chartered school will have plenty of
apprenticeship opportunities, he said.
Hands-on training in industrial arts today
could be done in a virtual world. DiPaola said studies show that
when test pilots train using flight simulators, their brains are
learning in the same way as if they were training in a real plane.
He noted that IBEW is now training substation linemen with an
interactive, three-dimensional game. He said an industrial arts
curriculum for high schools could be designed to include this same
type of virtual training.
There are three aspects of training:
quality, cost and access. DiPaola said employers are more
focused on cost and access: how much will it cost to train my people
and how can you train them and not take everyone off the job during
the training? Employers are concerned about productivity.
He suggested that employers tend to only
care about training that's compliance-driven, such as OSHA training.
"A lot of companies are not willing to put out the money if it's not
a compliance component," he said. "You must convince companies
they'll see benefit from the training. Corporations will look at
whether an employee's productivity increases after training. If they
don't see any benefit, they're going to walk away from training."
DiPaola maintains that colleges have the
same issues with quality, cost and access, but they push the cost
off onto the students. So the colleges, he said, look more at
quality and access issues.
Mandating that a certain percentage of
minorities be employed on public-sector construction projects
doesn't solve the problem of low numbers of minorities in
construction jobs. "Mandating percentages on projects like the
Vikings Stadium forces contractors to hire untrained people who
haven't been through an apprenticeship program and have no skills,"
DiPaola said. "They haven't had the proper training, so what usually
happens is the foreman basically finds them things to do. These
people get disgruntled and decide they don't want to do those things
for the rest of their lives. So they leave the jobs and don't get
careers in construction, because they didn't come in as apprentices
and never had the proper training.'
"We're not setting them up for any type of
success," he continued. "That never works. That's not going to
create construction workers. It just gives people temporary work to
push a broom and they end up leaving."
Some nonprofit organizations that offer
construction career training are not successful because they're too
political. "They've got a different agenda," DiPaola said. "It's
not really about giving these individuals the proper connections and
training. It's about saying how many people they've put through
their programs. But there's no retention once these people get
Legislators, the state Department of
Education (MDE) and the public need to believe technical education
at the secondary level is worthwhile. "Most school districts do
not believe in vocational education," DiPaola said. "They don't
believe in it. The reason it's failing is because they think it's a
secondary, lower-level education. We must convince people it's as
technical and advanced as any other degree, like sociology or
He said the biggest issue is that people
don't believe in the trades. "We need to get MDE to really believe
that vocational education is acceptable," he said.
The system we currently have is broken.
"Kids are going into debt, not finding jobs, living with their
parents till they're 35 or 40," DiPaola said. "Throwing money into
the educational system is like throwing it down the drain. We need
to tear the system apart and look at it from a different point of