Commentary: Training, apprenticeships can help ensure economic security in Tampa Bay Area

2020 has been a year of national upheaval. Challenges on racial justice and a deadly pandemic have rocked our foundations.
 
In speaking with people -- from protestors wanting change to struggling business owners to unemployed workers -- something that ties these challenges together is a call for a better pathway to economic security. 
 
One way to begin to answer this call is for Tampa to promote one of the best pathways to the middle class that local governments have: skilled trade apprenticeships through the contracting process.  
 
Earlier this year, I began a dialogue with labor leaders and Associated Builders and Contractors  (Florida Gulf Coast Chapter) of Tampa to build bridges on a Tampa apprenticeship ordinance. My intent was to solicit input from stakeholders for a collaborative approach to apprenticeships.
 
I do believe that our community, with strong and pivotal support from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, is on our way to creating an apprenticeship ordinance.
 
A skilled trade apprentice learns a trade -- like carpentry, electrical work, or welding -- through supervised, on-the-job work experience while receiving associated classroom instruction. About 45% of Florida state certified apprenticeships are from unions, with the remaining being non-union.
 
I am pushing for a Tampa skilled-trade ordinance which will:
  • Have contractors allocate a set percentage of labor hours per project for state-certified apprenticeships;
  • Not unreasonably burden small businesses and therefore be applicable to larger contracts;
  • Apply common sense in government so that good faith efforts can be properly defined for required apprenticeship goals;
  • Apply only to state-certified apprenticeships;
  • And have the City promote to residents of long-neglected areas -- like the University Area, Sulphur Springs, West Tampa, and East Tampa -- these training opportunities.
We need this ordinance for so many reasons. Go to a local public high school graduation and you will find a few hundred reasons to support this ordinance. Our workforce is aging with retirements creating shortages in skilled trades. We have the talent right here in our Tampa to make this work. 
 
But there is a larger narrative this ordinance speaks to for Tampa and why I believe that this is so important. Cities like Tampa are often told that we have to attract the “best and brightest” nationally and that we need to keep our homegrown talent here in Tampa. The assumption many make is that the “best and brightest” includes only those graduating from prestigious universities heading to white-collar professions.  
 
But we need policies that acknowledge that our “best and brightest” includes more than only someone with a master's degree from a top-tier private university.
 
A city’s “best and brightest” includes a person’s heart, their journey to where they are, and where their dreams want to take them. Tampa needs a plan so that a young person graduating from Middleton High School or Jefferson High School looking for a shot at a skilled trade in welding or electrical work has that shot here in their hometown.

The “best and the brightest” includes that young man or woman returning home to Carver City or Copeland Park from a deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan with nothing but their PTSD and a high school degree looking for an economic shot in their hometown.
 
And that term must include the young single mother in Ybor City working for minimum wage who wants a lifelong skilled trade so that she can have a career and maybe one day become a proud homeowner.
 
These fighters deserve a partner and a better pathway to economic security right here in their hometown, Tampa.  
 
This goes to the idea that there is dignity and respect in learning a trade and in working in the trades. And that one’s hometown should be on the side of those willing to work hard for a pathway to the middle class and economic security. 
 
And this idea goes to the heart of what we have been hearing in the streets, in our struggling small businesses, and in COVID-burdened hospitals over the last several months. This proposal provides for social justice. It promotes equity for those in our high school-to-prison pipeline that too many of our families know too well. And it equips young people, who are often left behind, with the tools they need to make the free market work for them.  
 
Taken together with robust investments in neglected neighborhoods in parts of the city like East Tampa and the University Community Area under the Castor Administration and with Tampa City Council, this proposal can serve as a critical piece of a larger narrative of a City that is righting historical wrongs in underserved areas.
 
This proposal uses homegrown talent to meet our needs in industry. It helps create a pathway to the middle class.  And it promotes social justice in a time when our people demand change. It will get the job done.

Luis Viera is a Tampa City Council member who was raised in the North Tampa/Temple Terrace area. He is a 2000 graduate of the University of South Florida and a 2003 graduate of Stetson College of Law. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2003. 
 
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