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California Workers Could Double Pay Through Apprenticeships

The Labor and Workforce Development Agency will spend $480 million over the next three years to expand apprenticeship programs across the state in an effort to help workers increase their salaries.

(TNS) — Strict rules for hiring and promotion tend to shut out apprenticeships from California government employment, but one state employee union has made the arrangements work, ushering employees into higher-paying jobs.

Working with state departments, SEIU Local 1000 has built apprentice programs outside the traditional trades — in nursing, financial services, cybersecurity and maintaining one of the state’s outdated computer systems.

California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency is looking to programs like Local 1000’s as it spends a projected $480 million over the next three years expanding apprenticeships around the state.

“We are focusing on apprenticeship because we see how it has provided that pathway into a family-sustaining wage and fulfilling career, not only in the building trades but also in healthcare, technology and many different sectors of our economy,” agency Secretary Natalie Palugyai said in an introduction to the agency’s plan for the money.

Local 1000’s nursing program, which helps licensed vocational nurses become registered nurses, has elevated participants from a job classification with a starting salary of about $55,000 to one earning about $110,000.

The union’s cybersecurity program has boosted staff services analysts, who earn $45,000 to $50,000 per year, to IT associates earning $65,000 to $70,000 with more opportunities to promote, said the programs’ coordinators.

“It’s really life-changing,” said Sarah McGinn, who heads the union’s apprenticeship programs.

Promotions in Civil Service

The apprenticeship programs all aim to deliver something state workers have told the union — and The Sacramento Bee in a 2020 survey — that they want: more opportunities to promote.

The apprenticeships — detailed on the union’s website — can be especially helpful for employees who feel stuck in an entry-level office assistant-type position or can’t see a way to become certified as a registered nurse while working at a 24-hour facility, said McGinn.

“We want to see people promote; we want to remove those financial barriers that prevent them from doing so, and we want to serve the state,” she said. “We have so many people who want to do a lot more than what their classification is right now.”

The union launched the IT and financial services programs using California Apprenticeship Initiative grant money championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Among other things, the grant money covers fees at participating schools, according to a union FAQ.

The nursing program was the first of its kind in the country for a civil service employer when the union launched it in conjunction with California Correctional Health Care Services and San Joaquin Delta College in 2016, McGinn said.

The union launched the other three programs in the last three years in coordination with a range of state departments including the departments of General Services, Motor Vehicles, Employment Development and Rehabilitation.

The Department of Technology initiated an apprenticeship with the union to train employees on how to use IBM zSystems mainframe technology.

Several state agencies depend on the circa-2000 technology, but few schools or private vendors offer training on it, considering it obsolete or near-obsolete, said Kenneth Anyanwu, an apprenticeship program coordinator with the union.

The department is using apprenticeships to replace retiring state employees who know how to use it, Anyanwu said. Those who complete the program may become information technology associates, with a salary range of about $54,000 to $99,000.

Employees who complete the financial services apprenticeship may become tax auditors or accountant trainees, earning $49,000 to $80,000.

California Apprenticeships

Newsom has set a goal of supporting 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029, including through major boosts to public sector apprenticeships, according to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s plan.

In state employment, that will require removing barriers. The workforce agency has been working with the Government Operations Agency, the State Personnel Board, and the state Human Resources Department to alter the state civil service code to accommodate more apprenticeships, according to the plan.

For instnace, Local 1000’s needed approval from the Board of Registered Nursing before launching its nursing apprenticeship, McGinn said.

Anyanwu said the union will soon launch pre-apprentice programs to help prepare applicants for the the apprenticeships it offers, which he said each have competitive applications for the 15-20 spots in each cohort.

Beyond that, the union is looking at ways to help custodians become office assistants and for office assistants to promote to analyst-level jobs. Maybe one day the apprenticeships could even be used to help people start state jobs, Anyanwu said.

“We do ultimately want to get to the point where this serves perhaps as an entry point for people into civil service,” he said.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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