Vernon stresses importance of apprenticeships as part of developing workforce

The congressional hopeful tours a training program in Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS — With students returning to schools and college campuses, Iowa 1st District challenger Monica Vernon stressed the importance of investing in workforce development and job training Thursday while touring a labor union apprenticeship training center.

“This is just as important,” the Cedar Rapids Democrat said while visiting the Iron Workers Local 89 apprentice training center in southwest Cedar Rapids.

“A four-year degree is not the only route to a successful career,” she said while touring with Democratic U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel of Florida, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Cheri Bustos of Illinois. “We need to be doing everything we can to ensure Iowans are prepared for high-skill, good paying jobs.”

Journeyman iron worker Steve Coleson, who is a part-time instructor in the program that trained him 10 years ago, told Vernon that apprentice iron workers start at $17.15 an hour, with benefits doubling that. Journeymen iron workers can earn $45,000 a year and superintendents can make six-figure salaries, he said.

Local 29 started the Joint Apprenticeship and Training program in 1965. It trains students in the skills necessary to work in all aspects of ironworking. The three-year program combines classroom instruction with paid, training-level employment. Nineteen students will begin the program Monday.

According to the White House, about 87 percent of apprentices nationwide are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000 annually.

The union takes that message to high schools to tell students that college is not the only route to a good job, Coleson said. But it’s not uncommon, he said, for students in the training to have some college education, sometimes a four-year degree.

“I talk to moms whose kids are in college who are thinking it might not be for them that they say they wish they had considered the full range of career options,” Vernon said.

The training is especially important across the 20-county northeast U.S. House 1st District because “we’re builders here, we’re makers, innovators,” Vernon said.

“When we talk about creating jobs in this region, we need trained skilled workers, so programs that help with these training programs and help people get access to them will be very important,” she said. “I want to fund those and continue those.”

The Local 89 program gets a grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority of about $15,000 a year, Kady Dozier of Local 89 said.

Iowa has tripled state funds to support apprenticeship across key industries, according to the White House. It is one of 14 states to increase the number of apprentices in their state by over 20 percent.

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