While the unemployment rate is hitting historic lows, there’s seemingly never been more “help wanted” signs posted on street corners. Montana employers need more skilled workers to keep up with demand — and fast.
Thankfully, Gov. Greg Gianforte recently proposed a rule change that could be a huge boon to our state’s workforce. By slashing complicated red tape for employers who sponsor apprentices, Gianforte’s reforms can significantly expand opportunities for young workers to enter skilled trades at a time when extra help is badly needed.
There are employers in Montana who would like to hire and train new apprentices, but are unable to do so because current regulations would require multiple new journeymen or full-time workers to also be hired — a cost many small businesses can’t afford.
For instance, if a small electrical contractor wanted to bring on one apprentice, they would need one skilled worker to oversee them. However, if the contractor wanted to hire another apprentice, the business would be required to have two additional skilled workers to supervise.
In a small business impact assessment, the Department of Labor and Industry said this mandated apprentice-to-journeyman ratio is particularly burdensome for small contractors in rural areas, where it is more difficult to recruit additional journeyworkers to supervise apprentices.
Gianforte’s proposed rule would revise current regulations, allowing one journeyman to supervise two apprentices at a time. This will mean employers, especially small businesses in rural areas, can more easily create apprenticeship opportunities for workers. More apprenticeship opportunities will also mean young Montanans will find it easier to obtain work and build good-paying careers in the trades.
However, not everyone is sold on the idea of changing apprentice regulations. Trade unions have activated their membership and are fiercely opposing the proposal to revise apprentice-to-journeyman ratios.
One union official recently claimed “It is nearly impossible to oversee and safely train two apprentices with one journeyman.” Yet, a release from Gianforte’s office notes Wyoming allows two apprentices to one journeyman, North Dakota allows three apprentices to one journeyman and Idaho allows up to four apprentices to one journeyman. These states are safely building houses and employing jobsites with even more flexible regulations than the reforms proposed by Gianforte, showing the union’s argument is bunk.
It’s also important to note that powerful trade unions benefit greatly from maintaining the regulatory status quo. Apprentices can be hired by the union hall rather than an individual employer, giving unions a significant advantage when competing against businesses in a short labor market. Unions represent many skilled workers across multiple jobsites and employers, providing a larger pool of journeymen who can oversee an apprentice. This makes it easier for large unions to maintain their compliance with apprentice-to-journeyman ratios compared to small contractors who would have to hire more journeymen to gain an apprentice for a jobsite.
In addressing Montana’s workforce shortage, Gianforte is right to focus on making apprentice-to-journeyman ratios more flexible for employers. Red tape should never stand in the way of an employer looking for help and workers eager to build skills.
This article originally appeared in Lee Newspapers