Study Finds Union Apprenticeships produce outcomes equal to Bachelor’s Degrees

An Illinois Economic Policy Institute study released September 23, 2021 reports several findings that Union Leaders and Apprenticeship Coordinators have long been promoting.  Union apprenticeship is a debt-free path to the middle class and far outperforms its nonunion counterparts.  Key findings from the study are:

“The labor market outcomes of union construction workers are competitive with workers with college degrees, while nonunion construction workers are only on par with workers with high school diplomas” (Manzo & Thorson, 2021).  The study also reported that union workers average 46% higher pay, are 34% more likely to have private health insurance, and 44% more likely to have access to pension plans than nonunion construction workers.  They also found wages and health insurance coverage rates are comparable between union construction workers and workers with bachelor’s degrees.  In contrast, nonunion construction workers were 18% less likely to private health insurance and 20% less likely to have a pension plan than someone with only a high school diploma.

“Union construction workers have positive impacts on public budgets” (Manzo & Thorson, 2021).  The study found that union construction workers contribute up to 68% more in taxes than nonunion counterparts and more than all workers with associate’s degrees.  They are also far less likely to depend on taxpayer-funded government assistance programs.

The study also called out the difference in the funding incentive structure for Joint programs and employer-only programs.  This is the underlying reason why Joint labor-management programs have higher quality curriculum, training centers, and instructors.  There is a systemic difference in the funding structures that reward long-term investment in union programs, and short-term investment in nonunion programs.  “Funding for training in joint labor-management apprenticeship programs is financed by”cents per hour” contributions that are part of the total wage and fringe benefits package negotiated with signatory contractors.  Under this system, investments in training the next generation of skilled tradespeople are institutionalized, included in project bids and paid by project owners.  Conversely, employer-only apprenticeship programs are sponsored by an employer or group of employers-usually a trade association- who unilaterally determine the content, length, and standards for their apprenticeship programs.  Funding for employer-only programs relies on voluntary contributions from contractors, who often have an incentive to forgo long-term workforce training investments in order to win project bids” (Manzo & Thorson, 2021).


The study several other findings including diversity in union apprenticeship programs is comparable to public universities and hours required to graduate is higher in union apprenticeship programs than public universities.  The study concludes that “Joint labor-management apprenticeship programs are the bachelor’s degrees of the construction industry” (Mazo & Thorton, 2021).  The Pennsylvania Apprenticeship Coordinators Association is proud to uphold that standard and provide high-quality training and opportunities to the industry.

View the full study here: