ANEW programs help attract diverse, enthusiastic, skilled workers

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Washington-based Apprenticeship & Nontraditional Employment for Women, ANEW, was founded in 1980. Their mission is to provide training and support to those seeking entry into the construction trades, where family wages and good benefits are available to all. Under the leadership of Executive Director Karen Dove, they offer a variety of programs designed to help women and people of color enter nontraditional careers, and to help employers attract and retain a diverse, enthusiastic and qualified skilled workforce.  

One of ANEW’s main programs is its Pre-Apprenticeship Trades Rotation, the oldest continuously running pre-apprenticeship in the country. The 11-week course is offered to aspiring apprentices, male and female, who want to brush up on basic skills before applying for construction work. During the course, students study a range of topics, and are given a chance to meet and interact with the companies that will hire them when they finish the program. As ANEW states, the program is “like having a day-long interview and immediate connection to the leaders who select apprentices.” 

The course has three main components. First, the essentials: resume writing, fitness and nutrition, interviewing techniques, trades math, everything they need to prepare for entrance exams. Then they learn construction-specific skills, including tool usage and recognition, blueprint reading, and first aid and safety. They also earn flagger and forklift certifications, which will be valuable in many different occupations. Finally, there is a trades rotation, where the trainees visit apprenticeship programs and work sites to see what each apprenticeship or job entails.  

The classroom component of the pre-apprenticeship was created with the needs of adult learners in mind. The average ANEW participant is 28 years old and has not looked at math book in a decade more. In the construction trades, however, math is used regularly. So, the pre-apprenticeship includes 44 hours of math instruction designed for people who do not already have strong math skills. There are also courses in resume writing, interview skills, and financial education. Students even learn ways to manage conflict and how to advocate for themselves in the workplace.  

Pre-apprentices do not get paid, but the program is free of cost. And there are many benefits beyond the education. For example, the pre-apprenticeship makes it much easier for alumni to find work. ANEW places about 80 percent of their graduates into careers with apprenticeship partners and local employers. “Students succeed,” says Dove, “because they choose their own path. Rather than learning a few tasks, they are exposed to many aspects of the trades. They begin a career with an understanding of what their job entails, and they know they have the skills to do well.” 

ANEW’s high placement rate of pre-apprentices after graduation is no coincidence. Many unions – and all of the unions that ANEW works with – give preference or priority to applicants who have graduated from a pre-apprenticeship. Employers know these candidates have already been screened for interest and motivation, and already possess skills that would otherwise need to be taught on the employer’s time and budget. This benefit alone saves thousands of dollars in training the company no longer needs to provide. Plus, they don’t need to sort through applications in HR or pay temp agencies to find trained workers. And, employees that come through ANEW end up staying longer at the job. The retention rate of ANEW’s pre-apprentice graduates is an impressive 68 percent, compared to the industry average of 38 percent.  

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Another major benefit to employers working with ANEW pre-apprentices is an increase in workforce diversity. The pre-apprentice graduates are primarily from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the construction trades. According to Dove, “a diverse workplace impacts your bottom line, increasing profits by 15 to 20 percent. And so, this isn't just the right thing to do if you want to be a good person, but it's the right thing to do if you want to increase your bottom line.” ANEW’s partners, particularly public agencies with a mandate to hire women and people of color, appreciate having direct access to highly-qualified candidates who will help them meet their requirements. 

Dove says at first, some employers did not understand the difference between a pre-apprenticeship and an apprenticeship. Over time, confusion has reduced, but there is still occasional misunderstanding as to what skills a pre-apprentice should possess. “When it comes to industry-specific knowledge, the pre-apprentice coming into a new job needs the same training as somebody who walks in off the street,” says Dove. “ANEW guarantees an employee who will show up on time, be ready to work, able to pass a drug test, and in possession of basic industry certifications. We set the groundwork for this person to be successful, but we don’t give them industry-specific experience.” 

ANEW also promotes high school career exploration, with initiatives ranging from afternoon clubs where students get hands-on practice and learn about a variety of trades, to more intensive work experience options. Their summer program, run in conjunction with the state of Washington, is 40 to 80 hours over the course of two weeks. All students are welcome to take part, but students who have a registered disability are paid minimum wage if they participate. “We did two of these high school programs this year, and they were such a success that we're planning for about 10 of them next summer,” says Dove. 

Beyond helping jobseekers, ANEW has a number of programs designed to help employers create working environments that are safe, supportive, and productive. For example, they recently partnered with Sound Transit and the City of Seattle to pilot a new workplace diversity and equity training program. The sessions cover implicit bias, hazing, harassment and bullying, amongst other topics, offering real-world examples and strategies for managing problems in the workplace. The goal is to redefine what constitutes acceptable behavior, eventually changing the culture of construction.  

Another program ANEW runs for employers is the Regional Pre-Apprenticeship Collaborative, consisting of businesses, public entities, and apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Their mission statement reflects a commitment “to funding and supporting a region-wide approach to outreach, recruitment, education and training” in order to help residents, particularly women and minorities, enter and succeed in construction apprenticeships. Each month, representatives meet to discuss ways they can increase the number, quality and diversity of workers entering the construction trades, and how they can improve the experience for everyone involved. 

ANEW’s success in the construction industry suggests that the status quo is ready for a change. Demand for pre-apprentice graduates is high, and the construction industry has been pleased with the results of all the initiatives. Dove believes the programs could easily be transferred to other industries. “Even workplace tours or a job shadowing program can bring results,” she said. “You allow people to find out, before they apply, if the job is something they actually want to do. Once you think about the cost of hiring and training, you start to realize the cost advantages of working with people who you know are already motivated and skilled. And on top of that, you’re helping to improve the lives of low-income or underemployed individuals.”  

Megan Quint