With a growing need for construction workers, the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) On-the-Job Training program provides opportunity for eligible contractors to train and develop construction workers, particularly women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals.
“It really is a pipeline for recruitment and retention," said PaHoua Schroeder, who coordinates the program for MDOT. "It assists companies with their equal employment opportunity (EEO) goals.”
To be eligible, the company must have a three-year history of working on MDOT federal-aid projects. The trainee cannot be related to the owner, have or be working toward a college degree in construction, or have more than 800 hours of experience.
MDOT will reimburse trainees for trade equipment not supplied by the company, such as steel-toed work boots, attending trade-related training and childcare, if needed. Employers are allowed to offer a training wage, which is often less than a journey-level employee.
In 2019, more than 200 individuals worked in some 54 companies across Michigan. Trainee positions cross a wide range of opportunities, including carpentry, electricians, construction craft laborers, ironworkers, bituminous density technicians, equipment operators, and project managers.
Schroeder said the program provides a critical incentive for employers to mentor and train people who may not have had opportunities to learn about careers in construction.
“I often hear from contractors who are looking for individuals interested in working in highway construction skilled trades," Schroeder said. “I’ve seen a lot more of this in the last few years.”
Employers are required to file monthly reports to ensure they are complying with the program. The goal is to have the trainee achieve journey-level status and remain in a career position.
Vuyo Matanda, originally from South Africa, is working as an electrician trainee and says he's enjoyed learning while working on several projects.
"It opened a lot of possibilities for me and for my career," he explained. "A lot of people don't really know how to get started and this helped me to learn the culture of the company and it helped the company, too."
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