One of the country’s best-kept secrets is that the American labor movement trains more workers than any organization other than the U.S. military. Apprenticeships and job training programs represent a powerful, life-changing opportunity that unions are in a unique position to provide. When those resources are made readily available to working people, membership growth often follows.
That’s a major reason why the leadership of Ironworkers Local 290 in Dayton, Ohio, has made expanding their training capacity a top priority. Given expected growth in the construction industry, the local is positioning itself to train more apprentices and grow its ranks.
“We knew we had a big, big problem,” said Local 290 Business Manager Jeff Bush.
Limited to four small classrooms and unable to build out its facility, the local went about finding a new home for the program. It purchased a 45,000 square-foot industrial building on six acres of property, renovating the space into a massive new training center.
Initially facing hesitation from members over the prospect of leaving their longtime union hall, the investment quickly proved its worth.
In the three years since the move, the local has dramatically expanded its training and outreach programs, launching daytime training, partnering with local high schools and recruiting existing skilled tradesmen to pursue membership and certification.
Local 290’s class of first-year apprentices has ballooned to 78, and affiliated contractors are welcoming the highly skilled graduates with open arms.
“Since we have made this move, every member is ecstatic about it. They’re bragging to all their people. They bring people through,” said Bush. “Nobody likes change, but we have to change or one day we’ll be sitting here wondering what happened to us.”
That willingness to change—coupled with a dedication to fostering a relationship with the community and providing value to working people—has proven to be a powerful organizing strategy. Over the past 18 months, the local’s membership rosters have skyrocketed by 25%. What’s more, Local 290 is now in a strategic position to lead the local building trades in the political and organizing fights that lie ahead.