Extending opportunity & promoting equity through apprenticeship

By Emily Miota

Apprenticeships build skills, extend opportunity, and confront the coming wave of retirements. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, with Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 265, created the Joint Workforce Investment (JWI) to address just this within their transit workforce. The project has grown and created pathways for non-traditional workers, such as people of color and women, through several apprenticeship programs that are successfully building a transit workforce for the future that reflects the diverse community of Silicon Valley.

JWI’s coach operator apprenticeship began as a mentorship for new operators faced with increasing demand for transit service in the midst of experienced operator retirements. Historically, operators completed a nine-week training and then had to “rely on their personal toolkit to get through on the job.” They felt prepared for the technical aspects of driving a bus, but not for dealing with challenging customer interactions and inconsistent schedules and routes. Using an apprenticeship model to restructure the training allowed JWI to create sustainable solutions to these issues. The coach operator apprenticeship is a key gateway to most occupations at the VTA. The quickest route to administrative, clerical, rail, and maintenance positions begins with time as a coach operator.

Bus mechanic (transit mechanic) is another highly desirable, family-sustaining career position at VTA. In the past, pathways into this occupation were primarily limited to people who had trained outside of VTA at technical schools or mechanical repair shops. Entry level facility workers—who clean and maintain facilities—had no clear pathway into the more skilled positions. With VTA facing a lack of qualified mechanics, the “Mechanic Helper” pilot program formalized a direct pathway from the maintenance entry-level positions of Facility Worker and Service Worker to Service Mechanic. With people of color and women dominating VTA’s entry-level cleaning occupations, the Service Mechanic and Track Worker Apprenticeship Programs represent game-changers in removing systemic inequities.

VTA transitioned the culture through formal and informal practices. The organization adopted formal diversity and inclusion initiatives. Human resources established equitable hiring processes including recruitment through community groups and diverse interview and selection panels. More recently, executive leadership has diversified its ranks with women of color serving as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operations Officer as well as other senior agency roles. These formal mechanisms led to an organization where diversity extends to immigration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Learn more and read the full case study here. This case study is part of a new report series called Equity in Apprenticeship, released by our sister organization, COWS.

Emily Miota is an Outreach Specialist at the Mayors Innovation Project.