Northwestern, Evanston collaborating on apprenticeship program

Edward Cox, Assistant Web Editor

Evanston will launch a pre-apprenticeship program to train residents for unionized construction jobs, including those on Northwestern’s campuses.

In a news conference at the end of the month, the city will announce details about the program, said Joe McRae, director of parks, recreation and community services and deputy city manager. The program is the brainchild of Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who has discussed the project with University President Morton Schapiro.

The initiative dovetails with the mayor’s efforts to create more job opportunities for Evanston residents, especially youth. Contractors have observed requirements to hire certain percentages of minorities but have neglected to prioritize hiring of local residents for jobs, Tisdahl told The Daily.

“These are not jobs Evanston residents are getting,” Tisdahl said. “I hope (contractors) have a policy of looking at Evanston residents first.”

Construction work on NU’s Evanston campus accounts for a large proportion of new development in the city. Although residents often have access to non-union jobs, many are shut off from more skilled union jobs. Creating a pre-apprenticeship program, advocates say, would help address the problem of underrepresentation of city residents on NU construction sites. 

In its experimental phase, the program will include 25 Evanston residents who will prepare for a test necessary to qualify for a union apprenticeship program. The program may grow later on, Tisdahl said.

The city’s Community Engagement Division has been involved in developing the program. The city and NU’s public information offices have also collaborated on the project, McRae said.

The program is the fruit of a long-standing relationship between NU and Evanston, said Kevin Brown, the city’s Youth and Young Adult Program manager. Brown said he will be spreading news of the program while McRae is responsible for how the program will run.

“The city and Northwestern tries to create a pipeline for Evanston residents to qualify for union membership,” Brown said. “The way to do that is through the apprenticeship.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is one of the unions with contractors working on construction projects at NU. IBEW Local 134 and the Electrical Contractors’ Association’s apprenticeship program is open to Cook County residents. During the apprenticeship, trainees will be paid to learn on the job and take classes, Local 134 Vice President Maurice King said.

King said he is receptive to the city’s pre-apprenticeship program. The union’s apprenticeship training program provides a flow of young electricians who can replace retirees, he said. Some unions provide pre-apprenticeship programs, which are usually a year or less. The apprenticeship programs that follow can take multiple years to complete. 

As part of a related endeavor to increase job opportunities for residents, the city is holding an apprenticeship readiness training program overseen by the Chicago Urban League on Feb. 6 in the Morton Civic Center. 

In the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, NU sends representatives to hire from within the community, Brown said.

“This is part of the increasing goodwill between Northwestern with Evanston and the great relationship the mayor has with the current Northwestern president,” Brown said.

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