Two trade unions in Boston have partnered with Madison Park Technical Vocational High School to offer a pathway to apprenticeship and an associate degree for students studying carpentry, the culinary arts, television broadcasting, or any of the other 16 trade programs offered.
The program, funded through a donation of $125,000 by International Painters Union (IUPAT) DC 35 and the Painters and Glaziers Employers Association of New England, has allowed Madison Park’s curriculum to add a certified pre-apprenticeship program that will enable students to walk into union membership after their graduation.
“It’s the first real partnership that we have with the industry,” said Perino Watson, who teaches building and property maintenance at Madison Park.
“That investment couldn’t just be transactional,” IUPAT Communications Director John Doherty added. “We could have gone in, handed over a check, and that would have disappeared into the Boston Public School system and we would have no effect. It had to be more of a transformational relationship where we have personal relationships to the people there.”
Teachers at Madison Park will instruct based on the curriculums offered in traditional apprenticeship courses. As well, students will attend field trips to job sites and have opportunities for real-world experience in community projects. By graduation, students are expected to have the skill sets of first-year apprentices and will be able to dive into their second-year apprenticeships.
For students like Janice Williams, a senior studying in Watson’s shop and who will be joining IUPAT after graduation, the union will also allow members to work toward their associate degree, as IUPAT is now recognized as an accredited school.
“If someone were to go to Madison Park, take our course for three years, and come to us for two years, they now have five years of education in a trade that pays $75 an hour with no college debt,” Doherty said.
Bringing more of Boston’s youth into unions, meanwhile, will help supply a more localized workforce for contractors to hire.
“The main thing [is] giving them a workforce that they don’t have to go to the employment agency to look for,” Watson said.
According to Doherty, many graduates from Madison Park were not working on job sites in the city as a result of both private industry winning construction bids and a lack of communication between unions and the school in order to bring graduates into local unions.
“Most unions don’t have a communications director, somebody that’s making sure those partnerships come down the line, making sure that what we have to offer is getting into the neighborhoods [such as Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan],” Doherty said. “That’s not to say that we don’t have members in those areas, but one thing that comes up all the time is that if projects in the city are going union, they’re not going to people that live in the city.”
“This ties into the whole conversation we’re having in the country right now,” Doherty added. “You have people pushing the fact that we have a skilled labor shortage and yet don’t invest in vocational schools.”
The school’s executive director, Kevin McCaskill, emphasized the impact that a school like Madison Park can have on diversifying unions.
“When you talk about the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester, you talk primarily about students who are young people of color,” McCaskill said. “All it takes is access and opportunity so these students can really get gainful employment right in industry and fulfill some of their personal and family dreams and aspirations.”
An increase in women union members would also be possible through Madison Park’s new opportunities, Watson added.
“I think a lot of young women don’t realize the potential that they have in the city of Boston,” Watson, a member of IUPAT, said. “There’s so much work here, and the workforce is minimally women. Now they know they can come here and get the percentage raised.”