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Redefining labor for the 1990s.

The term "laborer" has a new meaning in the 1990s, according to Arthur A. Coia, general president of the 600,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA). "In the old days, if you had no specific trade or skill, but could offer only yourself to an employer, you were a laborer." However, things are different now, because of the union's extensive training programs, causing an "evolution of laborers from unskilled workers to skilled men and women, performing a wide variety of tasks."

Construction, the traditional berth of laborers, has become far more technical than it used to be, "but laborers are still at the heart of the process. . . . In fact, they now run some of the very machines that replaced their hodcarrying predecessors."

This evolution did not happen automatically, but "came about through cooperation between labor and management and a commitment to providing workers with the skills needed to meet the demands of changing industries."

The training efforts of LIUNA began in 1967 with various Federal grants. Two years later, the union joined with the Associated General Contractors, a trade association, to establish the Labor ers-Associated General Contractors Education and Training Fund. This group is independently funded, has its own administrative staff, and is not part of either the union or the association. It oversees such projects provided to members of the union through 73 local training funds and sites across North America. The program equips more than 33,000 laborers each year in the U.S. and Canada with new or upgraded skills and, in some cases, with other career options. Skills training is offered in both construction and evironmental fields, as well as courses in workplace literacy and a career path program.

One program seeks to establish career paths for laborers through school-to-work and work-to-school connections and provides competency certification standards for each step. It also can help a worker gain college credit for the skills curriculum. This project "attempts to find a compromise between apprenticeship programs (which tend to be rigid and don't generally adapt well to changes in the workplace or in skills) and educational institutions (which don't always deal well with the demands and requirements of the workplace)."
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:364
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