A Way Out of Underemployment

Many young people are struggling to find a meaningful career as they enter the workforce. Oklahoma has long been a state which has low unemployment rates, but when delving deeper, one will see that underemployment impacts many.

Underemployment describes individuals working multiple low-wage jobs in an effort to cover monthly costs, often with no health insurance benefits. Many adults are impacted by this, where in the past, these jobs were mainly for high school students.

Entering the workforce is tough for young people, and when you also look at different demographics among youth, that is especially true about young people in foster care. Many aging out of the system have not had an adult role model to help them navigate entering adulthood.

Last week, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy hopefully connected two organizations that will both benefit from a tremendous opportunity to provide jobs for young people.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting with Jimmy Curry, the Oklahoma president for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). We were discussing both our jobs at a backyard cookout held by one of our mutual friends in south Oklahoma City and I asked him what programs are in the labor movement that support young people.

Joe Dorman

My father was a member of the Operating Engineers while working as a building contractor, so I knew personally the benefits one receives in a career through a trades union, but wanted to know if there were other things available.

Jimmy pointed out an opportunity for high school students to learn a profession through CareerTech classes, which could lead to an apprenticeship through a labor association that would provide a job.

For those not familiar with an apprenticeship, this is a pathway to learn a skilled trade through planned, supervised, on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. An apprentice is a regular part of the workforce and earns wages while acquiring important skills. The length of the tuition-free apprenticeship ranges from three to five years.

After completion of the program, an apprentice becomes a journeyperson, an individual fully qualified to perform the work of the specific trade with the ability to earn full pay for their skill.

I recently attended an apprenticeship recruitment event hosted by the Oklahoma Building & Construction Trades Council. Their executive director, Jimmy Fish, extended the invitation to me to help find young people who might want that opportunity to find a career path. I reached out to friends with the Oklahoma Successful Adulthood (OKSA) program under the Department of Human Services to invite them to also learn about this opportunity. We have both groups connected, and hopefully this will lead to additional opportunities for foster youth who might not know about apprenticeships.

Larry Brouk with the Plumbers & Pipefitters shared with me there are 1,152 construction contractors who employ apprentices through programs that employed 112 instructors to help educate potential journeypersons. There are more than 2,000 apprentices annually, with enrollment increases with women and veterans of late.

More than $10 million goes into the training of apprentices in Oklahoma, and the average starting wage for an apprentice is $17.65 an hour, not including health insurance and retirement benefits added on for an additional $15.41 extra.

If you know of someone who is looking for a rewarding career path with great pay and the satisfaction that comes from a quality job, have them go to www.okbctc.org to learn more about these tuition-free classes. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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