HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — As we work to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders are looking to get more people working in skilled trades by increasing the number of state-certified apprentice programs.
This comes as welders and other skilled tradespeople are more in demand than ever here in Tampa Bay. It can be a very lucrative living, as one welder told us back in May.
“The sky really truly is the limit,” said Kelly Denmark, a married father of two. “I’ve got friends that are making over 200 grand a year, you know, with a welding hood on their head.”
There is no college degree required. Instead, welders can be trained through certification and apprentice programs, emerging with a well-paying career and none of the debt that often comes along with a college degree.
"You get the proper training and the proper certification and then you have the skills for life,” said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who made a motion to increase the number of state-certified apprentice programs within city construction contracts.
It would work by requiring 12 percent of the workforce in city construction contracts to be made up of apprentices who are state-registered. That way the city and county know the training is quality and up to standard.
Companies who meet the mandate will be given a portion of retainage back early as a thank you from the city.
Retainage, also called “retention,” is an amount of money “held back” from a contractor or subcontractor during the term of a construction project. In Tampa, the retainage is 5 percent of the contract.
If passed, there would also be good-faith exemptions for companies who want to do business with the city, but can’t meet the mandate.
Viera said this gives job-seekers a unique opportunity for job training.
“You give young people graduating from places like Middleton, King and Jefferson and you give them a pathway to the middle class,” Viera said.
But not all lawmakers think this is the way to go. Rep. Nick DiCeglie, who is also a business owner in Pinellas County, has filed House Bill 53. This bill would block local governments from instituting mandates in construction contracts; specifically “training employees in designated programs.”
DiCiglie said this ensures all companies have an equal shot at securing these contracts.
Broward County and the City of St. Petersburg have similar programs to what the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County leaders are proposing.
With respect to the City of St. Petersburg’s program, in late 2019, a lawsuit was filed against the City challenging the validity of the City’s program. So far, the merits of the lawsuit have not been addressed by the trial court, according to Hillsborough County.
This comes as the International Union of Operating Engineers is pushing back against H.B. 53.
They posted on Facebook in January, saying the state-certified apprentice programs “invest in the next generation” and posing the questions “Why should Tallahassee tell local governments what they can or can’t do? And why not invest in apprenticeship?”
H.B. 53 is on the agenda for 10 a.m. on Feb. 18. This comes as a vote on apprentice programs is expected at the same time from the city of Tampa.