“Experience has shown that worker growth and development are stunted when programs are mandated from above, but flourish in an atmosphere of voluntary participation in self-designed and self-directed training and education.”
-- USW/Company Contract Language
The Institute for Career Development (ICD) was created in 1989 as a result of contract negotiations between the United Steelworkers and major steel companies. ICD is a joint initiative, with labor and management working together to provide educational services to Steelworkers.
In the 1980s, imports, downsizing, corporate restructuring and the global economy eliminated thousands of Steelworker jobs. The USW responded by negotiating the Career Development Program to give Steelworkers access to a wide range of training and education, with an emphasis on basic skills.
The Career Development Program has been established in contracts with 16 companies. Today there are approximately 70 Career Development sites throughout the United States. Geographically, they range from coast to coast -- from USS-POSCO in the San Francisco area to ATI Metals, New Bedford operation in Massachusetts; and from mining operations in Minnesota to tire production plants in Alabama.
ICD provides services for the education, training and personal development of Steelworkers at the participating companies. The Career Development Program helps workers acquire the skills they want, whether it’s for personal enrichment, the opportunity to progress in the workplace or to prepare for retirement. By upgrading basic skills and educational levels, ICD programs enable Steelworkers to have more stable and rewarding careers. The training also provides dislocated workers with alternative career opportunities.
Structurally, ICD is governed by a Governing Board composed of USW officers and top company officials. The Governing Board establishes program guidelines; but the driving force of the Career Development Program is the Local Joint Committee (LJC) at each plant site. The LJCs – made up of union and company representatives – survey workers and document their needs and interests. The committees develop programs that reflect this emphasis. Through the LJCs, workers participate jointly with managers in all educational decisions, including course offerings and the hiring of instructors.
The result is a Career Development Program that is uniquely tailored to the needs of the Steelworkers at each site. This “bottom-up philosophy” ensures that the Institute remains focused on what motivates workers to learn. Steelworkers feel a sense of ownership for the program and are comfortable using it. Participation is voluntary. Workers contribute their own time to take classes.
Most of the LJCs operate their own learning centers, usually on or near a work site. Classes are offered before and after shift changes to make education accessible. An important aspect of the program is learner confidentiality. Only the Steelworker and the Career Development staff at the learning centers know whether the Steelworker is enrolled in the program to brush up on basic skills or to complete a college-level course. The focus of the program is to provide Steelworkers with “portable” skills. These are skills that Steelworkers can use at the plant or in other jobs should they make career changes.
Approximately 80 percent of the funds spent on program activities are for “customized” courses. These classes are designed specifically for Steelworkers by instructors hired by the LJC, and are usually offered at the learning centers. Access to other courses is made available through a tuition- assistance program, which provides up to $1,800 annually to each worker for tuition, books and lab fees at accredited schools of higher learning. Courses can be either for credit or noncredit. Money can be paid directly to the educational institution upon the participant’s registration, thereby negating out-of-pocket tuition expenses for the worker. Through customized courses and tuition assistance, workers can take anything from small-engine repair to college algebra. Recently, pre- technical classes have been by far the most popular course offerings, comprising 39 percent of all customized classes. These classes emphasize technical aspects of materials and machines, such as electronics or computers.
The national office in Merrillville implements the policies of the program’s joint Governing Board, sets standards, approves funding and furnishes professional assistance to the plant-level sites. The ICD staff also develops and promotes innovative approaches to lifelong learning, resulting in some of the finest educational services available to workers in any industry.
ICD has an Advisory Board representing all the participating companies comprising top company labor relations and human resource executives and representatives of the USW appointed by USW International President Leo Gerard. The purpose of the Advisory Board is to advise, counsel, and assist the ICD Executive Director and staff in the performance of their duties. The board works closely with the ICD staff to make policy change recommendations to the Governing Board as well as implement the policies of the Governing Board.
For more than a quarter century, ICD has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about tailoring education programs to the needs and interests of Steelworkers. ICD will continue to explore innovations that can improve the quality and availability of education for Steelworkers.