Many unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, already provide top-quality training to their members. But unions could make work training a fundamental service they provide members, and even act as a voluntary certification agency. Good training produces a win-win situation for both employers and employees. Unions can provide employers with improved worker productivity and workers with enhanced employability and career development. Since new workers are often in need of training and certification in order to advance their careers, unions could particularly appeal to younger employees through this service.
There seems to be a real need for workers to gain additional skills through training and apprenticeship programs. There are almost 11 million Americans unemployed, but 4 million jobs still unfilled. One reason for this gap may be that employers simply cannot find workers with the skills needed to fill those jobs.
This need is so great that JPMorgan Chase launched a $250 million Global Economic Opportunity Initiative in 2013, aimed at improving skills training programs. JPMorgan Chase pointed to statistics estimating that one-third of the U.S. unemployment rate is due to a lack of skills.
The Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group for manufacturing firms, recognized this problem, too. According to one of its reports, 5 percent of manufacturing jobs are not staffed because companies cannot find employees with enough skills to do the work.
Finally, unions have the ability to show their value to potential members by offering training and apprenticeship programs. They can demonstrate how valuable their members are to future employers by guaranteeing their members have gone through rigorous training and testing to prove their competence. If the union becomes trusted as a training organization, an employer hiring a union member will know that he is hiring a highly competent employee. This does not need to be limited to only the skilled trades — there may be service or technical fields where unions could also provide valuable job training.
This is not to say that unions should be given the legal power to be a licensing agency and only those with a union license will be legally allowed to work. For unions to thrive in the 21st century, they must compete with each other and with other private organizations.