A new, wide-reaching apprenticeship program has launched this fall thanks to a $3 million federal American Apprenticeship grant. The grant proposal was spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (OWD) and secured with the help of its program partners.

The five-year Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative is an expanded, coordinated effort among construction and hospitality apprenticeship programs, labor unions, and area colleges to provide career pathways for low-income applicants. Via an “earn and learn” model, participants progress through pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs on their way to living wages. Participants also have the opportunity to earn college credits while an apprentice, with the opportunity to complete an associate’s degree at a fraction of the regular cost.

crowd at Apprenticeship Program announcement
A crowd of officials and well-wishers gathers at Wentworth Institute of Technology for the public announcement of the Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative. Wentworth president Zorica Pantić greets people in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Wentworth Institute of Technology

“Mayor Walsh and the City of Boston are leading the way in making sure hardworking people, especially women and people of color, can get the skills they need to get well-paid jobs with good benefits,” said U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren at the public announcement of the initiative in October. “I’m very happy the federal government is recognizing their efforts with this major grant.”

The Obama administration instituted the American Apprenticeship grant competition last year to encourage apprenticeships as a pathway to the middle class for those who would benefit from an alternative to traditional college. The $175 million in grant money, administered through the U.S. Department of Labor, was awarded to 46 apprenticeship programs nationwide.

The Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative consists of two different career tracks in industries predicted to experience growth: construction and hospitality.

For construction participants, the first step in the initiative is pre-apprenticeship training through one of two non-profit programs, Building Pathways or YouthBuild Boston. Building Pathways, a program of the Metropolitan Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, primarily recruits minorities and women; YouthBuild Boston, founded in 1990, recruits inner-city youth.

In pre-apprenticeship training, candidates learn general job readiness skills and receive certifications in, for example, OSHA and CPR. YouthBuild Boston also offers HiSET (high school equivalency) classes to its clients, many of whom have not graduated high school.

“In pre-apprenticeships, participants also get exposure to all the different trades, so they can make an informed choice about which apprenticeship program to apply to,” said Clare Shepherd, manager of the Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative. “Additionally, the pre-apprenticeship makes them more appealing candidates for apprenticeship. They’ve already proven themselves to a certain degree.”

Building Pathways graduate speaks at podium
Darryl Frederick, a military veteran and graduate of Building Pathways’ pre-apprenticeship program, speaks to his fellow program participants at their December graduation ceremony.
Photo Credit: FayFoto

Upon securing union apprenticeships, participants earn starting wages of $19 per hour and can work toward journeyman wages starting at $35 per hour. Simultaneously, they will have the opportunity to enroll in associate’s degree programs at Wentworth Institute of Technology in electronic technology, building construction management, architectural technology, or mechanical engineering technology. Their apprenticeship work will count toward nearly half of the required credits for the degree.

For hospitality participants, pre-apprenticeship training begins with BEST Corp’s Hospitality Training Center, which has trained incumbent hospitality workers, often immigrants, for roughly a decade. The Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative marks BEST Corp’s entry into the field of apprenticeships.

In fact, BEST Corp’s apprenticeship appears to be the only hospitality apprenticeship of the 46 apprenticeship programs funded nationwide, based on a review of all program descriptions.

The new hospitality apprenticeship model, which currently focuses on housekeeping, has already been approved and registered by the state Division of Apprentice Standards. Upon securing union apprenticeships, participants earn initial wages of $16 per hour and can work toward journeyman wages of $21 per hour.

Depending on the success of the housekeeping apprenticeships, BEST Corp may expand its program to other hospitality vocations, such as culinary work.

The Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative is exploring the possibility of a post-secondary pathway for hospitality apprentices similar to the one that exists for construction apprentices. The initiative is currently in talks with Bunker Hill Community College.

Although some key partners in the Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative had previously delivered apprenticeship services, the initiative represents an expansion of their program capacity. Overall, the initiative will create 405 new pre-apprenticeship training opportunities and serve 65 employers. The initiative also creates accelerated, inexpensive routes to higher degrees and forges new collaborations among key partners.

Shepherd stressed that greater collaboration yields its own rewards.

“We’ll be meeting regularly to share information across the initiative on what works and what doesn’t, particularly around challenging issues like retention,” Shepherd said. “We want to use the Greater Boston American Apprenticeship Initiative as an opportunity to fine-tune apprenticeship models that can thrive well into the future.”