IR #2003-5
Friday, Auguust 29, 2003

Dean Fryer
Susan Gard

Apprentices personify spirit of Labor Day
New Department of Industrial Relations Web site portal tells their stories

San Francisco - Former apprentice and Berkeley Fire Department Captain Donna McCracken developed physical endurance by running up and down bleachers wearing a backpack. She developed strength by lifting weights and kickboxing and can take a hit from a hunk of hose without it stopping her. Now she is doing the triathlon. Oh yeah, and she also fights fires.

McCracken is just one of the apprentices or former apprentices featured on a special Web site portal the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) posted in observance of Labor Day this year. Also featured are Native American apprentice ironworkers constructing the Zampa Memorial Bridge in Vallejo, an apprenticeship training school and young workers building their first home in a low-income Sacramento neighborhood.

The Web portal, which will be expanded during the year, is aimed at encouraging Californians to examine the state's registered apprenticeship training programs, which enroll 66,000 aspiring apprentices in more than 500 occupations.

The California apprenticeship system responds to the demands of the state's economy for skilled workers by partnering government, labor, industry and education as it trains new generations of students to succeed in industries such as health care, public safety, culinary arts, entertainment and construction. Students are paid while learning their craft and can transfer acquired skills to jobs anywhere in the country after becoming journeypersons.

Because it provides a supportive learning environment and in some cases, almost guarantees a job to those who successfully complete training, California's apprenticeship system has been credited with improving school performance of participants and reducing dropout rates among high-risk populations, according to studies completed during the 1990s.

"When workers get out of a construction apprenticeship program, they're usually already employed and they're usually trained to replace workers lost through attrition," says Chuck Cake, DIR's acting director and a journeyman electrician. "During hard economic times, apprenticeship committees and employers do everything they can to make sure apprentices work as many hours as possible. Even journeypeople, who can travel, will leave a job for an apprentice. It's a tradition."

Apprenticeship programs introduce women into non-traditional work. Almost 8 percent of the state's apprentices are women, a number higher than the national percentage, and one the state Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) is committed to increasing. The DAS this year organized a blue-ribbon committee composed of educators, employers, union officials and apprenticeship coordinators to examine recruitment and retention of women in apprenticeship programs with the intention of recommending changes or support mechanisms to encourage enrollment and retention of women in non-traditional trades.

To view the state's apprenticeship Web portal go to, click on the Labor Day link entitled Apprenticeship: Embodying the spirit of Labor Day.