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BUILD OUT EXCLUSIVE : State Sen. Jacque Talks Tools of the Trade and Growing the Construction Workforce

November 7th, 2019 | Published by NEW Construction Alliance

The Build Outspoke exclusively with State Sen. Andre Jacque about the passage of his bill, SB 44, which authorizes $100,000 annually for the Tools of the Trade program.

The program provides grants to help apprentices purchase the essentials they need to perform their craft, including tools, clothing and equipment. Jacque explained the origin of the program, stating: “Originally, it started on a few campuses and was so successful that it was expanded statewide. And it's been funded to this point by the Great Lakes Scholarship Corporation, which is now known as Ascendium [Education Philanthropy].”

Ascendium is a non-profit and the administration of the funds to apprentices are administered by the state. The additional funds constitute a 33 percent increase over current funding, which has run at $200,000 per year. “It’s not like any state dollars are supplanting funds from the nonprofit sector. This is basically enabling the program to grow to those that are eligible.”

Jacque told The Build Out that the bill, which directly benefits the growth of the construction trades workforce and passed the Senate unanimously, was a no-brainer: “This is something that been an extremely successful program, [it] has a 96 percent continuance or completion rate. It's really dollar for dollar as good of a scholarship program as you can find, especially within the technical college system which, by its nature, tends to not have as good of a retention rate as what you see in other higher education.”

From the State Senate the bill moves to the Assembly, where it will hopefully be picked up by the Assembly Committee on Workforce Development chaired by State Rep. Warren Petrykand whose membership includes northeast Wisconsin legislator State Rep. John Macco.

The bi-partisan success of SB 44 gives Jacque hope that it will meet with the same success on the Assembly side, “I'm hopeful that wewill see the Assembly continue what,”was accomplished in the Senate.

“The Legislature has put a lot of funding into workforce development, but specifically when you're talking about the trades, there is a desperate need out there right now,”Jacque stated reflecting on the current crisis in our industry’s workforce. “With any number of developments underway across the state of Wisconsin it's very important that we have an available workforce. I do think it's something that makes a lot of sense. [It’s] not controversial on a partisan basis, so I'm hopeful that it is something that Assembly leadership will help to advance as well.”

Jacque has been working on other bills that would assist reconstituting Wisconsin’s construction trades workforce including one geared towards, “really providing parity for apprenticeship versus other types of post-secondary instruction in terms of being tax deductible.”Currently, tuition for worker training and other higher education is tax deductible, but tuition money spent on apprenticeships is not. SB 45,which Jacque authored with State. Rep. Rob Stafsholt, would change this and allow those expenses to be deducted as well.

Again, Jacque sees this as a common sense solution pointing out the average apprentice is age 25-27 years old, may be married with children and is working for a reduced wage during the apprenticeship. Making their tuition fees tax deductible helps encourage more to follow this career path. And he points out that this too has strong support across the aisle and throughout the industry: “That is something that has been supported by both the union and non-union shops and construction stakeholders. That actually passed the Assembly unanimously on a voice vote at the end of last session as well.”

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