Last week, I joined the BlueGreen Alliance of Iowa on their Quality Jobs & Renewable Energy Infrastructure Bus Tour. Iowa IPL has been a proud member of this coalition since 2021. For those of you unfamiliar with their work, “[the] BlueGreen Alliance unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy.” The purpose of this specific event was to learn more about Registered Apprenticeship programs around Des Moines and their roles in advancing high quality & equitable careers while building on renewable energy infrastructure. I had the opportunity to tour 3 locations: the Carpenters Training Facility, the Des Moines Electrical Apprenticeship Facility, and the Plumbers and Steamfitters Training Center. The Bus Tour, co-sponsored by the Labor Center, Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council, and the BlueGreen Alliance, was an exceptionally informative event, with participants ranging from environmental activists and educators, to building trades leaders and community service providers.
Iowa IPL is invested in a just transition as we move into a green economy. We are dedicated to helping connect the dots to secure workers’ rights and livelihoods while at the same time shifting to a more sustainable way of living and working. Just transition is a faithful response to climate action, ensuring equitable and vibrant futures for all of creation. Just transition is crucial for effective climate action – and although the transition needs to happen quickly, it’s imperative that we also focus on doing so in a fair and equitable way. While climate goals need to be met to protect our Earth and its creations, we also need to ensure the whole of society, workers and community members alike, aren’t left behind. This is why being a member of the BGA of Iowa is an important part of living out our mission.
Training and education are crucial aspects of any skilled trade, and these training centers are keeping that at the forefront of their programs by incorporating classrooms and hands-on practical labs at each location. It is clear that the students are extremely cared for during their time at the training facilities. Each center proudly promoted their motto of “earn while you learn,” offering students the ability to earn good wages while they complete their education and training. Students are able to earn a debt-free education, while also being provided with health insurance, retirement benefits, regular pay raises, and other opportunities.
In addition to providing students with an abundance of benefits, the apprenticeship programs focus heavily on keeping up with energy efficient technology and practices. Each of the centers emphasize the need to focus on green practices so that students can take that information and apply it throughout their careers.
The tour started off at the Carpenters Training Facility, where we learned about the classes that are offered and the incentives for students. In addition to carpentry, there are classes on professionalism, as well as solar & wind energy, all focusing on environmental impacts within the workplace.
We then hopped on the bus and rode to the Des Moines Electrical Apprenticeship Facility, where classes are led by electricians and subject matter experts. This practice leads to students having some of the best passing rates on exams – with scores being nearly 50% higher compared to other facilities. In addition, classes are kept to a smaller size of 12-18 students, helping ensure nobody gets left behind and leading to an increased probability of finding a good paying job right out of the program.
Our last stop was the Plumbers and Steamfitters Training Center, where we learned about the classes that are provided. (If it’s related to the plumbing and pipefitting industry, they’ve got a class for it!) Classes varied in several different disciplines, such as plumbing, pipefitting, welding, HVAC, backflow prevention, water quality, blueprint reading & drawing, refrigeration, medical gas installation, OSHA, and more. Students spend a week in the classroom and then six weeks in practice applying their knowledge. Equity in the trades is of high importance at the training center, with everyone throughout the program being paid the same wage.
I am extremely grateful I was able to learn about these apprenticeship programs first-hand. It is clear that these centers care about providing their students and workers with a positive experience that will lead them to good paying jobs, while also focusing on implementing clean energy practices into their daily work. These programs are helping Iowans of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on the climate crisis in equitable and just ways. We will be sharing more about our policy and coalition work around just transition throughout this year.
To learn more about these programs, check out Iowa’s Building Trades Unions website.