REIMAGINE APPALACHIA co-hosted a virtual meeting with Keystone Research Center based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to discuss growing career opportunities in Appalachia.

The meeting focused on blue-collar jobs such as construction work and the benefits of apprenticeships.

Speakers discussed a recent report on the advantages of apprenticeship programs in the Appalachian area.

It emphasized the importance of increasing diversity in apprenticeship programs and how demand and retiring laborers will provide larger opportunities in the construction industry.

James Kunz, administrator of the Pennsylvania Foundation for Fair Contracting, discussed his background and experiences with apprenticeships, highlighting the advantages of the programs.

Kunz discussed how he was able to work as a heavy equipment operator across the nation due to the skills and certifications he received from the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 66.

Kunz gave a history of apprenticeships and discussed how they have changed over time.

He said that the concept dates back to 15th and 16th century England.

“They would spend a number of years where they would, in exchange for their labor, learn the secrets and mysteries of these highly sought-after skills, and after so many years they would be deemed a journeyperson, and that would allow them to go from town to town, journeying across the country applying their skills in earning a living,” he said.

“Since then, apprenticeships have risen and fallen and have run into many obstacles including a robust push for college degrees throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I remember, myself, being in school in the ’90s. You know, being told that the only way to a good job and a good career is through university,” Kunz said.

Kunz said that successful apprenticeships teach life-long skills that help people build their careers.

“Whatever you learn, carpentry, finishing work, heavy equipment operation, it gives you skills that are portable. If the industry moves, you can follow the industry,” he said.

According to the written report by Reimagine Appalachia and Keystone Research Center: “Over the past half-century, the Appalachian region has experienced a devastating loss of manufacturing and extraction jobs. The economic impact and human costs of this restructuring can be seen in declining and stagnant wages and collapsing labor force participation rates, as workers become discouraged from participating in the job market.”

The report also states that there are fewer “middle-paying” jobs in Ohio due to the decline of jobs in mining and manufacturing.

“But while union construction careers alone can’t rebuild the entire middle class, the robust apprenticeship programs combined with unionization in the trades are a great model for creating careers in many industries,” Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said.

The report states: “Today, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create more good jobs for Ohio workers of every race/ethnicity, gender, and background. Massive federal investments in climate infrastructure will create a boom in construction, land restoration and agroforestry jobs, one that coincides with the retirement of the youngest post-World War II baby boomers.”

Herzenberg said the workforce is starting to get younger.

“The baby boom has been retiring, and so the workforce is actually a little younger now than about 10 years ago. It’s still significantly older than it was in the early 1980s, and so there’ll still be a fair number of retirements over the next few years,” he said.

Diana Polson, senior policy analyst at the Keystone Research Center, discussed gender and racial inequalities in wages.

“Women’s wages remain at just 79% of men’s wages in 2021,” she said.

She also said that studies from 2021 show that Black and Hispanic workers earn less than 80% of what white workers earn.

“Clearly, a need exists to make further progress so that women in particular and people of color have equitable access to high-paid construction careers,” Polson said.

Polson said apprenticeships can help create equal opportunities for all Ohio employees. She added that those who complete apprenticeships have higher wages.

The Keystone Research Center strives to increase public discussion about ways to create a stronger and more fair economy. The center conducts original research, publishes reports and encourages public discussion. It also suggests new policies to aid in solving these issues and uses advocacy, coalition building and strategic communications to push these policies forward.

“Reimagine Appalachia is a coalition that primarily works in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky and was born out of a broad recognition that the economy has not been working for most people in places in the Ohio River Valley,” Kunz said.

More information can be found on the Keystone Research Center’s website at

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