By Clive McFarlane TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Terrell Taylor, 27, knows a thing or two about being an apprentice, and how it can be an effective launching pad for one’s career.
But not all apprenticeship programs are the same, and the one that got Mr. Taylor involved in the gangs that dominated his life, growing up Brooklyn, New York, is not the path he now recommends.
“I had to learn the hard way how life should be,” he said of the grief he brought his family, and of his decision to flee his “dysfunctional” life in New York to start afresh here three years ago.
He was able to reclaim his life and to dream of a better future through a series of community programs that focuses on internship and apprenticeship models.
YouthBuild, a program that helps low-income young people attain their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities, gave him the idea that he could be a carpenter.
And it was while he was engaged in a rebuilding project for the Stone Soup resource center that he met several members of Carpenters Union Local 107, who told him about their apprenticeship training program.
They soon helped him land a union job, which got him into the apprenticeship program. It will take about four years to complete, but he is learning while he is earning wages that increase as his skill level rises.
“This is a job that can provide you with a lifestyle that all the people I grew up with would really want to have,” Mr. Taylor said.
“But you must prove yourself. You have to show that you really want it. If you show dedication and a desire, they will work with you.”
Mr. Taylor spoke Thursday at the graduation ceremony of 130 apprentices at the New England Carpenters Training facility in Millbury.
“To be a productive worker, you have to be trained, and our program is a model in the industry,” Mark Erlich, the executive secretary of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said.
Susan Mailman, president of Coghlin Electrical Contractors & Coghlin Network and who supports the Worcester Responsible Employer Ordinance, is involved in the annual selection of apprentices in her field. She said the programs are an investment in the community and are critical to the continued success of the company.
“They are transformational and a tremendous tool for workforce development,” she said.
The potential of apprenticeship programs to fuel economic development was the reason the City Council adopted an REO last year.
Despite the objections of then-City Manager Mike O’Brien and some CEOs with open shops, city councilors refused to back down on the REO’s most controversial part, a requirement that contractors and subcontractors working on city-awarded contracts maintain and participate in a state-certified apprenticeship program.
As a result, the city is under the threat of lawsuit by the Merit Construction Alliance, a trade association representing open shop contractors and their employees. The association believes Worcester’s REO will increase construction cost and that it will eventually be ruled invalid, given that the courts have ruled against similar measures in Quincy and Fall River.
But city councilors continue to be undaunted.
“I think it is time for more businesses, not less, to provide these kinds of apprenticeship programs,” City Councilor Phil Palmieri said.
“They are essential if we want to engage our changing demographics into the fabric of our economic life, and they are essential in our quest to keep college students here, as well as to help our high school students’ transition into the workforce.”