Business & Economy

With more than a dozen projects, Los Angeles transit officials aim to create jobs for apprentices

25-year old Sherrod Smith waited for the chance to learn about how land work on Metro construction projects
25-year old Sherrod Smith waited for the chance to learn about how land work on Metro construction projects
Brian Watt/KPCC
25-year old Sherrod Smith waited for the chance to learn about how land work on Metro construction projects
Metro staged a career resource fair for construction work in a tent outside the MTA building
Brian Watt/KPCC

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Hundreds of people lined up outside Los Angeles MTA headquarters Thursday for a seminar on how to land a job on a METRO construction project.  

Like high school students on college day, hopeful workers went from table to table talking to representatives of different trade unions.

"We have a lot of big projects coming up and we're going to need a lot of members," said Jeremy Diaz of Plumbers Local 78 in Los Angeles. "Especially with a lot of the baby boomers retiring at an alarming rate, we're going to need guys to fill those ranks."

He said the recession had slowed work for his union's members, but the outlook is improving.

California's construction sector lost 40% of its jobs during the recession, but begun to rebound in the last couple years. It's expected to be the fastest-growing sector this year, with 8.1 percent job growth, according to a recent report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. 

MTA officials said they're part of that improved job market.

From the new Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor and the Regional Connector to a pedestrian bridge in Universal City, at least twelve Metro construction projects are underway and six more are coming up. And many of those projects should employ new workers.

In 2012, Metro's Board of Directors approved a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades setting a target for 20 percent of the jobs on projects costing going to apprentices. It only applies to construction projects valued at $2.5 million or higher.

"That’s creating new opportunities for people who have not been in the construction career arena before," said Stephanie Wiggins, the transit authority's Executive Director of Vendor/Contract Management. "We're focused on careers and not just jobs."

Diaz, of the plumbers union, said apprentice plumbers earn a starting wage $18.76 per hour. Journeyman plumbers make more than $41 per hour.  

Thursday's event, held in a tent outside the Metro building in downtown Los Angeles, was billed as a "Construction Career Recruitment and Resource Fair."

Sherrod Smith, 25, of South Los Angeles has worked for two years welding and weatherizing homes. Now he wants to get into carpentry. As he waited in line Thursday, he said he hoped working on a Metro project will give him the chance.

"I'm trying to take a new route. I want to be well-rounded," he said. He'd have no problem joining a trade union as an apprentice. 

"If I could find the right trainer, or someone that’s gonna help me," he said, he knows he can pick it up. "I’m a fast learner, and I listen well."

Metro and the trade unions' agreement also calls for hiring 40% of workers from economically disadvantaged areas and 10% of workers hired from the ranks of long-term unemployed, chronically homeless and returning veterans from recent wars.