International Brotherhood of Teamsters/Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation School-to-Career Mentoring Program
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters/Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation School-to-Work Mentoring Program represents a promising approach to solving a serious challenge facing both manufacturing employers and manufacturing unions – that of renewing the supply of skilled workers to fill the manufacturing jobs of today and tomorrow. This program – begun in 2002 and continuing to date – provides high school students with a positive introduction to manufacturing work under cost-effective conditions, thus increasing the supply of needed skilled workers to the company. The union, in turn, gains an opportunity to hand down its members’skills and knowledge; train young workers interested in in-demand manufacturing jobs; and keep the community’s employers competitive – while introducing tomorrow’s workforce to the rights and responsibilities available to them under collective bargaining agreements.
Based on a program piloted in the other five New England states by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the program began under the auspices of the state’s Central Labor Councils’ Union Mentoring Project, with the enthusiastic support of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. Similar programs have been launched throughout the state of Connecticut by the Union Mentoring Project and collaborating union-employer partnerships at a number of unionized workplaces in both the public and private sector. These include Electric Boat (a division of General Dynamics); several public and private utilities; local housing authorities; woodworking and fabrication shops; and theatrical production companies. The union-led Union Mentoring Project actively promotes the IBEW model as a way to help unionized employers from a variety of industries and sectors who will be losing skilled workers to retirement in the next decade, while giving local schools a more effective way to introduce young people to high-skill, high-wage careers. Other Connecticut employers – and their unions – report similar success with their mentoring programs and have praised the role of the state’s labor federations in supporting their school-to-career efforts.
back to top
Maintaining the pipeline that channels young workers into manufacturing: Employers and unions share a concern about the future of manufacturing in the US, particularly as the workforce in the sector ages. Both workers and employers call for the K-12 education system to inform students about the changing nature of manufacturing and the wage potential manufacturing jobs provide, while preparing them for careers in this sector.
For a period of years, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT or Teamsters) union officials in Stratford, Connecticut had observed that area youth were often confined to relatively low-paying jobs in the region’s retail and restaurant establishments. At the same time, one of their signatory employers, the local Sikorsky Corporation helicopter plant, reported that it had difficulty filling vacancies for skilled workers due to the high cost of labor market research, recruitment and training. While Sikorsky already operated an internship program for its salaried positions – such as engineers – it lacked a mechanism for introducing prospective employees to its hourly occupations represented by IBT Local 1150. When the Connecticut Central Labor Councils came together to promote a successful school-to-work program based on the achievements of the IBEW model employed throughout New England, they were able to secure funding through Workforce Investment Boards for launching their Union Mentoring Project in Connecticut. Sikorsky and the Teamsters – as well as other unions and their employers – recognized a chance to address the needs of the company, the community, and the workforce through a high road mentoring program.
back to top
Understanding the Demand and Meeting It
As a project initiator with an extensive knowledge of the industry, the company, and the labor market, the IBT could rapidly identify and confirm the company’s training and recruitment needs, without costly formal research. The Teamsters knew that Sikorsky Corporation’s helicopter manufacturing facilities in Connecticut employ 7,500 people, about 4,000 of whom are hourly workers and members of the Teamsters union. The median age of these workers is currently 50. The local union knew that, at the time the project was initiated, the helicopter plant needed to replace a significant number of hourly workers annually due to retirements. These departing employees were highly skilled, and the flow of younger workers to fill their positions had slowed to a trickle. With targeted, on-site training, the union hoped that a school-to-work project could fill the gap between a demand for skilled workers and a supply of young people not yet equipped to handle the requirements of advanced manufacturing. The Teamsters therefore proposed to Sikorsky management a school-to-work program based on the Union Mentoring Project. The company apparently shared the union’s enthusiasm for the approach, as Sikorsky agreed to give it a try.
back to top
Although the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1150 and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation were the primary stakeholders in this effort, they knew that the actual project would require the active commitment of other partners, most notably the area’s secondary school system. Participating high schools include Bullard-Haven Vocational-Technical High School in Bridgeport, Platt Technical High School in Milford, Emmett O’Brien in Ansonia, and Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, Connecticut, all chosen for their proximity to Sikorsky’s Stratford and Shelton facilities. The school systems’ Cooperative Work Program personnel were also integral to the project’s team.
The Union Mentoring Project, a collaborative of all the Central Labor Councils in Connecticut, provided vital staff and volunteer support to the Teamsters to develop and expand their partnership with Sikorsky and the schools. The CLC presidents designated a statewide director for the Union Mentoring Project, and, with state and local Workforce Investment Act funding, they were able to hire a school-to-work “Partnership Facilitator” who was housed in the John J. Driscoll United Labor Agency, the labor movement’s service agency in the state. Assistance on mentor recruitment and training, parents’ night, student/mentor evaluation, Labor History Day, and graduation ceremonies were just some of the services offered to the partnership by the Union Mentoring Project.
Similar mentoring partnerships to the one profiled in this case have operated at employers in other sectors, along with an additional manufacturing project at Electric Boat. These partnerships include other unions, such as the United Auto Workers, the unions of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the United Steel Workers of America, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, UNITE (now UNITE/HERE), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees. And more are being developed each year.
back to top
Program Activities and Methods
In adopting the IBEW School-to-Work Mentoring approach, the Teamsters had to accept a critical program component: The young interns would be full union members while on the job. Consequently, they first secured project approval from their membership at the plant before initiating the project.
The model also required that experienced workers and union members would participate in the project as mentors to the students, who would intern for the summer after their junior year, with an option to also return after their senior year. Program organizers then enlisted the participation of selected high schools and vocational schools. The role of vocational schools was especially important to the success of the project because Sikorsky wanted interns with training in skills taught by the schools, such as machining and electronics. Moreover, the schools’ Cooperative Work Program served as the legal vehicle that enabled 16- and 17-year-olds to work in the plant.
Next, the roles of each party were defined, and the process for selecting interns and mentors determined. The parties decided on a three-part process, working with cooperating coordinators named by Sikorsky, the Teamsters, and the participating schools. First, the company determines what specific jobs need to be filled and notifies the union of these openings. Interns work as machinists, electronic technicians, carpenters, pipe fitters and more. Secondly, the union informs the schools of the positions to be filled, and nominates the appropriate mentors and alternate mentors from among its membership. The high schools then forward this information to the junior and senior classes and invite students to apply. Finally, interns are selected based on their interests, grades, attendance records, aptitude, behavior, and prior community service activities. The selection committee, comprised of the three above-mentioned coordinators, make the final acceptance decisions.
As interns at Sikorsky, students receive: full union membership; an introduction to the aircraft industry; an introduction to the trades and crafts jobs at the worksite; an introduction to labor management-relations; an introduction to labor history during a special Labor History Day; and an eight-week entry-level salary for work performed. In addition, students receive a plant orientation, safety training, and guidance and mentoring from a union mentor, who is also a co-worker, throughout the program. The company assigns interns to fill in for vacationing workers and to increase the productivity of the mentors by giving them extra help. At the end of each summer, the interns, their mentors, employer, and educational partners attend a dinner in which the interns receive participation awards and recognition.
In promoting school-to-work mentoring programs across the state, the union-led Union Mentoring Project identifies the following key ingredients for success:
- A solid labor-management partnership
- A commitment to work-based learning
- An existing or anticipated need for skilled workers
- A willingness to invest in the workforce of tomorrow
- The ability to build a solid tripartite working partnership involving union, employer and school/community.
back to top
Connections to the Public Workforce System
Both the Connecticut Governor’s Office of Workforce Competitiveness and various local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) have contributed to the funding of a Union Mentoring Project staff position at the United Labor Agency to promote school-to-work programs for unionized employers throughout the state, including the manufacturing mentoring projects at Sikorsky and Electric Boat. The public workforce system therefore contributes indirectly to fostering the project at Sikorsky, but no direct WIB funding has been allocated to the Sikorsky/Teamsters School to Work project. Because the partnership depends on contributions from all participants, rather than grant funding, its structure encourages a long-term systemic relationship between the employer, its workforce and the schools.
back to top
Program Funding Sources
The employer pays the cost of salaries for the interns and the work time lost by mentors during their training and participation in the Labor History Day. The company also shares the cost (with the union) of the Recognition Ceremony at the end of the eight-week in-plant internship period. The local union and the CLCs (through project funding) share the costs of the university professors and other resource people who serve as the program’s mentor trainers and labor history teachers. The union also funds “ Parents’ Night” at the beginning of the program. For their part, the schools fund the salary of the Cooperative Work Program staff and other educators who oversee intern recruitment and placements.
back to top
The presence of potentially hazardous conditions in the plant represented a special problem the project had to address. Before work could begin, the project needed to obtain permission for minors (students ages 16 and 17) to work in the Sikorsky Aircraft facility. The participating vocational schools’ Cooperative Work Program provided the solution to this problem. Only under this program can designated schools enroll student interns and apply for waivers from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division work rules for minors. In order to obtain the waivers, the Cooperative Work Program staff had to visit the job site and approve each occupational assignment. Since the interns became Sikorsky employees, Sikorsky remained liable for Workers Compensation in the event of an accident. The strength of the partnership among the educational system, the company and the union enabled the parties to address the liability issues to the satisfaction of each of their respective constituencies, as well as the state.
back to top
Program Results and Returns to Stakeholders/Partners
The expansion of the program over time is clear evidence of its success. In 2002, the program only placed three interns at Sikorsky. In the second year it expanded to 12 interns; in the third to 24; and in 2005 to 46(35 high school juniors and 11 seniors). In 2006, Sikorsky and the Teamsters expanded the program again: 60 high school students participated, 31 of whom are seniors.
Only those interns who perform satisfactorily during their internship and graduate from high school are eligible to become full-time permanent Sikorsky employees. In 2005, Sikorsky offered jobs to nine of the 11 graduating interns, seven of whom accepted. Two declined employment offers: One went on to college and one moved out of the area. To date, a total of 15 interns have started to work full time as Sikorsky employees and Teamster members. A few more students were offered full-time employment but chose to pursue other opportunities, including college or the military. As of the publication of this case study, 31 graduating seniors were scheduled to complete the program in 2006 and the program expects the majority to be hired this fall.
Benefits to the Company:
Sikorsky has gained: a new source of trained, skilled workers while reducing recruiting and retention costs; a closer relationship with the public education system; and a collaborative, positive relationship with the community. The program ensures that participants are not performing menial tasks but are fully integrated into the skilled production process. Thus, these workers are often able to fill in when full time workers go on vacation during the summer months. The company is able to assess these workers over the two-year period, enabling it to hire many of them for full- time work upon graduation. As new employees, the former interns come to the company with occupational skills, work experience, and knowledge of the Sikorsky plant, its products, process and culture. By hiring these former interns, the company has both reduced its new employee recruitment costs and reduced the “learning-curve” usually required for new hires to reach full productivity. The fact that local management has enthusiastically continued to support the program is further evidence of its true value to the company. The company was interested in using internships with hourly employees and this program allows them to do so.
Benefits to the Interns:
Interns in this program (juniors and seniors in high school) enjoy average earnings of $15.00 - $17.00 per hour, which is considerably higher than most high school students earn in a summer job. In some cases, the interns also have a higher hourly wage than their parents. Interns get priority hiring consideration for some of the best jobs in the local labor market – jobs with good wages and good benefits. Once hired on a full-time basis, the former interns earn $17.00 to $20.00 per hour with good health and retirement security benefits. They are also eligible for tuition reimbursement for college courses and three hours per week of paid leave to attend classes. (They must maintain at least a C average to receive this tuition reimbursement.) There is little danger that successful interns who want to work at Sikorsky after graduation won’t be able to do so. In the current year, the company will need to replace approximately 300 hourly workers and is eager to hire graduates of its joint company/Teamster School-to-Work Mentoring Program.
Benefits to the Union:
The Teamsters have benefited in a number of ways from this project. The program has provided a cost-effective way for its employer to fill vacancies – thus saving dollars that can be made available for other priorities. The fact that the company can more easily find skilled workers in the community also contributes to its competitiveness – thus increasing the employment security of its current membership. Through the work of the program, more than 2,500 students have been exposed to the positive role of unions in America’s workplaces. Former interns who become Sikorsky permanent employees and union members, grateful to both the company and the union for the opportunity, become stronger union members. Union members who become mentors in the program also report high levels of enthusiasm for the program and their union. Mentors receive training in counseling, tutoring and advising young workers, while taking pride in imparting the lessons they have learned over the years about how to succeed at work and about the advantages of union membership. The union is pleased that the attention the project has received locally, including the praise for it as an example of the constructive role that labor and management can play together. The union also reports that its relationship with Sikorsky on other labor relations matters has improved as a result of the program.
This featured program, and the similar efforts at other Connecticut employers, also reflects favorably on the state’s AFL-CIO-affiliated Central Labor Councils, which took the initiative to introduce the concept to unionized firms in the state.
Benefits to the School System:
Connecticut’s high schools are able to provide their students with rewarding vocational learning experience through this program. Students considering the vocational education track in participating high schools can see that they will be able to find good paying jobs in their community upon graduation. (In programs other than the Sikorsky-IBT program, students were recruited from general education high schools as well as vocational schools.) That knowledge encourages students to choose the learning environment that best suits their learning styles and their interests without fear that it will doom them to a sub-standard quality of life. Offering that choice to high school students contributes to greater success for both the academic and the vocational programs in the schools. A less anticipated benefit to the schools, however, was the finding that the project has led Teamster members and Sikorsky supervisors and managers to become more knowledgeable about, and move involved with, their local school system.
Benefits to the Community:
Greater corporate and taxpayer investment and involvement with the local schools is certainly a significant benefit to the wider community. Being able to connect the community’s non-college-bound youth to good jobs nearby prevents losing them to other communities and/or to potentially less positive pursuits. The greatest benefit to Sikorsky’s communities, however, is that which motivated both the union and the employer to initiate the project. Both Sikorsky and the Teamsters recognized that finding qualified workers for the helicopter plants in Stratford and Shelton would contribute to the viability of those plants and their good, family-sustaining jobs and thus to the long term economic vitality of the region itself. To the extent that the project has met that goal, the community is the better for it.
back to top
Next Steps for the Program and/or for the Partnership
The partners are eager to substantially expand the program. To achieve this goal, however, the program has identified two key issues that it should address. First, program operators must inform prospective interns that, if they are planning to enroll in college full-time upon graduation, this program is not for them. Secondly, to fill the growing number of vacancies that will occur as the result of upcoming retirements, the union and the company must expand the program rapidly. The union regrets not having started the program earlier to stay ahead of hiring needs, as this has become the preferred method of recruitment by the company. It is not the only method, and the company hires outside when necessary, but if the program can expand sufficiently, it can demonstrate the responsiveness of such joint labor-management training initiatives.
The program has submitted a funding request to the local WIB for the next program round and is hopeful about the prospects. One of the WIB labor representatives is a member of IBT Local 1150 who has been a driving force in the school-to-career program.
For more information, contact Tom Gannon at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.