There has been a construction boom in Oregon. Demand in the trade continues to rise yet 90 percent of construction companies say they don’t have enough qualified workers to meet demand. As part of an effort to boost the worker pipeline, the state offers no-cost apprenticeship programs, which can lead participants to a more lucrative construction job. But without reliable child care coverage, too many working parents couldn’t find a way to make it through the program.
Then Oregon found a solution.
Since 2011, three state agencies in Oregon have come together to create one of the country’s most generous and comprehensive child care subsidies to support worker training and development through the state program: Apprentice-Related Child Care (ARCC). ARCC is funded by a portion of Oregon’s federal state highway funds. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) signed an agreement with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to manage it.
To support workers in the apprenticeship program, Oregon offers some of the most generous subsidy reimbursement rates in the country – up to $2,500 per child per month, and in some cases, without any co-pay from the families. While over a quarter of the beneficiaries are women, most of the workers who take advantage of the program are men. Many have spouses who also work, and some are single fathers, explains Larry Williams, operations and policy analyst for BOLI.
Oregon has some of the more expensive child care in the country, and work in construction can involve unpredictable hours and long travel – another burden for parents with kids enrolled in traditional child care programs. Research shows that access to reliable child care allows parents—notably mothers—to develop skills and training necessary, and increases the pool from which the industry can recruit. The lack of child care remains one of the top reasons why women are forced to leave the workforce prematurely, and why they do not re-enter the workforce.
Maura Kelly, a Portland State University sociology professor, examined the effectiveness of the supports within ARCC and found that child care subsidies had a positive impact on the completion rates of the Oregon apprenticeship programs. Kelly explained that construction apprentices have particularly challenging child care needs; they earn low pay when they’re starting out and maintain irregular work hours. “We’ve seen that providing child care subsidies helps people complete their apprenticeship when they might not otherwise,” said Kelly.
Her survey findings show that women and people of color who received Oregon’s child care subsidies were 21% more likely to complete the apprenticeship program, and white men who received this support were 37% more likely to complete it. In fact, child care assistance had a much higher impact on completion rates than some other services offered, like gas reimbursement and travel support.
Kelly found that a particular strength of the subsidies is that family and friends were allowed to become eligible providers and receive payment for child care services. “This is particularly important for construction. They need flexibility for early mornings, late nights, weekends and overnights. Friends and family may be more able to take kids overnight, and we know that overnight child care can be challenging.”
And unlike in other places, where child care certification processes can be time-intensive and bureaucratic, Kelly describes a straightforward, “not labor intensive” process to get a Family, Friend and Neighbor child care provider certified through Oregon’s Health and Human Services office.
“Make it or break it,” is how one woman described the apprenticeship programs. “If you’re a single parent and you really want to have a better job to provide for your family, how you get [that better job] is through one of these apprenticeship programs.”
When the ARCC program was initially set up, it was only for the apprenticeship programs, but the child care subsidies have since been expanded to include the pre-apprenticeship programs. “If you think about construction, after a few years you earn quite well and you are well placed to find child care and pay for it. …The way is through an unpaid pre-apprenticeship program. But without child care, it’s off the table for the primary caregiver,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, who has authored a report on child care supports in the construction trade, focusing on Oregon’s program.
Challenges posed by child care are difficult to overcome for women. While women are just 4 percent of all trade workers, in 2020, over 300,000 women worked in construction occupations, more than ever before. For women with children under six, lack of child care was the top reason they left the trade, according to an IWPR report, which Hegewisch co-authored with Eve Mefferd. And researchers believe that of all the supports provided for job retention, it is child care that stands to make the biggest difference. Penny Painter, program manager of the apprentice support services who interfaces directly with the program participants, said: “Before having child care, people didn’t think they would be able to have a career.”
Professor Kelly’s evaluation finds enough positive evidence to recommend that child care supports be continued for the program. The 2020 Oregon Joint Task Force on Access to Quality Affordable Child Care recommended keeping those child care costs at no more than 7 percent of household income. (Capping child care costs at 7 percent of household income is the national benchmark as well, and what the Biden administration proposed in the failed care infrastructure provisions in Build Back Better).
Other localities have explored child care supports to help bolster the apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Boston’s Building Pathways program includes child care referrals to providers with early start times as one of their pre-apprenticeship supports. The Moore Community House for Women in Construction in Biloxi, Mississippi, was able to provide support for child care for up to one full year from the pre-apprenticeship program enrollment with the help of a federal grant.
Hegewisch explains that what makes Oregon unique is having passed a law to provide a dedicated funding source for child care and other supports to support apprenticeship diversity and retention. “Oregon is the only one state that is doing this,” Hegewisch said.
Kelly says the conversations about providing child care in the construction industry are increasing. She spoke of a recent national conference, Tradeswomen Build Nations, that she attended in 2022. “I heard about child care so much at that conference. More so than I had heard in previous years. People are identifying this as a problem and demanding better solutions.”