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Empowering Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Rise of ATU Apprenticeship Programs

The ATU’s industry-leading apprenticeship programs have played a critical role in training our members.  Our apprenticeships not only provide individuals with the opportunity to learn and master specific skills but also contribute significantly to the overall development of a highly skilled workforce.

As a U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship Ambassador, our apprenticeships prioritize hands-on experience, mentorship, and classroom instruction to create a comprehensive learning environment that equips our members with the expertise needed to excel.

As pillars of professional development, ATU apprenticeships stand as a key driver of both individual success and the well-being of the communities we serve. Under International President John Costa’s leadership, the ATU has prioritized these programs by offering International support through staffing, expertise, logistics, and anything else our Locals and members need. We highlight a few of these innovative programs at Locals across our Union.


Establishing Bus Operators as Skilled Labor

Before 2015, all bus operators in this country were considered unskilled by the U.S. Department of Labor. Recognizing the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to be a successful bus operator, our Local 265-San Jose, CA, and its transit agency, Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), along with other industry partners, worked with the DOL to reclassify bus operators as a profession and create a groundbreaking bus operator apprenticeship program. Since its inception, more than 1000 operators now hold Journey worker cards as professional coach operators, and some are even receiving as many as 18 College units after graduating from the Local’s apprenticeship program. In addition, the Local 265 bus operator apprenticeship program has sparked other ATU Locals to create similar programs.


Local 1070–Indianapolis, IN, Teams with IndyGo and Ivy Tech

Our Local 1070-Indianapolis, IN, joined with IndyGo, along with Ivy Tech Community College, to develop apprenticeship and mentorship programs for our members. International President Costa has the opportunity to see these successful programs firsthand on a trip to visit our Local.

“I heard about the great apprenticeship and mentorship programs here at IndyGo and wanted to come check them out. I’m impressed with the success here. I can see the pride and commitment. I can see how these programs are changing the lives of our members while helping to address the shortage of workers at IndyGo,” said Costa. “Your programs work because we are at the table to create them. Our members know the jobs better than anyone. These programs can serve as a model for our Locals and transit agencies across North America.”

One of the programs the Local is partnering with Ivy Tech Community College and IndyGo is to provide our members who are IndyGo diesel apprentices with a pathway to a technical certificate from Ivy Tech in diesel technology. The skills and experience of our Local diesel mechanics played a critical role in developing this apprenticeship at Ivy Tech, the first of its kind at the college within the transportation/logistics sector, specifically diesel technology.


Local 689 – Washington, DC

Our Local 689-Washington, DC, has developed successful joint labor-management apprenticeship and mentorship programs at WMATA and Fairfax Connector to continue expanding our Union’s workforce development programs across North America.

“It’s an honor to be here with you today to hear from you, our members, and management how your innovative apprenticeship and mentorship programs are expanding opportunities for our members to advance their careers and for WMATA to hire skilled workers,” said Costa, who visited a meeting of apprentices, mentors and the transit agency at the Local 689 Union Hall. “These Local 689 WMATA and Fairfax Connector workforce development programs are very impressive and provide models to help our Union continue to set the standard for apprenticeships and mentorships across our industry.”

Local mentors and apprentices, as well as WMATA and Fairfax Connector officials, spoke about how working together is critical to the success of these programs. One of the highlights was an innovative CDL Learner’s Permit and GED Class run by Local 689 at their Union Hall to prepare and give potential operators an opportunity for a career in the public transit industry.


Local 85-Pittsburgh, PA, and Local 788-St. Louis, MO Paving the Way

At Local 85-Pittsburgh, PA, and Local 788-St. Louis, MO, they are currently working on turning their successful mentor programs into registered apprenticeship programs. Recruiting and retaining new operators proved to be a challenge for both transit agencies. So, both Locals worked closely with their transit agencies to develop mentor programs to help increase retention, reduce absenteeism, and improve workplace cultures. There are now over 100 mentors in both programs, who are selected jointly by our Locals and their transit agencies to assist new operators in becoming accustomed to their careers in public transit.  The mentor program’s success led to the Locals and transit agencies wanting to take it to the next level and add that nationally recognized certification.

The ATU is proud to be facilitating these important programs for our members and our industry. Thank you to all our mentors and apprentices who are putting in the work to improve our workplaces and our transit systems.