How IUPAT’s Bridge Programs Open Doors to Good Jobs

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility programs are imperative for creating a work environment where all workers can pursue and achieve their fullest potential. As part of their commitment to inclusivity and diversity, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades recently launched their Bridge Programs, a unique approach to improving job quality and creating access to good jobs for workers who speak English as a second language. It’s also a great example of how labor-management partnerships can actively address and achieve DEIA goals.

IUPAT’s Bridge Programs pair IUPAT’s training institute and District Councils with regional adult education providers and workforce development partners to provide ESL services to potential new members and current apprentices and pre-apprentices. The purpose of the Bridge Programs is to help non-native English speakers improve their language skills specifically for the workplace and focuses on industry-specific terminology and communication skills.

The Office of Labor-Management Standards recently joined IUPAT for a workshop in Nashville that brought together key workforce development and adult education stakeholders who are currently engaged in IUPAT Bridge Programs in 11 locations – from Oakland to Orlando – including a local contractor employer, IUPAT District Council representatives, jointly run union and employer apprenticeship program staff, appointed and elected government officials, workforce development and adult education providers.

A collage of photos from the workshop with diverse participants engaged in different activities..
Top left and bottom: Workshop attendees, including Office of Labor-Management Standards employees. Top right: An ESL instructor and participants in the ESL course that was observed during the workshop.

The workshop’s aim was to exchange experiences and discuss strategies to enhance and scale IUPAT Bridge Programs with a goal of increasing opportunities for more workers in historically underserved communities to obtain good-paying union jobs. Hosting the event was The High Road Alliance, an organization advocating for sustainable and equitable training programs, in partnership with IUPAT and the Finishing Trades Institute International – a labor-management partnership created and run by IUPAT and the contractors who employ IUPAT members.

Spotlight on innovative language curriculum

One of the workshop’s focuses was the Vocational English as a Second Language curriculum, which is used in IUPAT’s Bridge Programs to blend English proficiency with vocational skills. VESL integrates a full year of English language skills taught concurrently with first-year apprenticeship skills. Here’s why it stands out:

  • Safety-Centric: From ladder precautions to lockout/tagout procedures, VESL integrates safety consciousness into a language program, making workplaces safer.
  • Facilitating Clear Communication: The program significantly reduces language barriers. Graduates can confidently greet colleagues, introduce themselves, and use complex trade-specific terms in workplace conversations - increasing efficiency and ensuring good communication on the job.
  • Championing Teamwork: The curriculum fosters collaboration. Participants actively coach peers, solve vocational challenges and partake in peer-to-peer learning.
  • Vocational Excellence: Beyond language, VESL dives into trade-specific skills. It invites members to question, understand, and apply their trade.

This curriculum model serves both workers and employers by fostering a competent, cooperative and safe workforce.

The highlight of the two-day event was a site visit to a participating ESL class. Attendees had the opportunity to observe students from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, and Venezuela engage with the VESL curriculum. Students shared stories of their personal journey – from the challenges they faced in their home countries, to their aspirations in the United States, and how mastering English was pivotal in bridging the gap. Many highlighted that speaking English proficiently not only eased their daily interactions but was also crucial on the jobsite.

Takeaways and the road ahead

Under the mentorship of High Road Alliance, workshop participants came away with actionable insights, especially site-specific strategies and lessons learned for recruitment strategies, partner alliances, sustainable funding and more.

It was a meeting of shared experiences, learning and brainstorming that provided attendees with a roadmap to diversify membership and fortify their IUPAT Bridge Programs. From the workshop we learned that IUPAT’s Bridge Programs are proof that achieving DEIA goals through labor-management partnerships are achievable when unions, employers and job seekers work together. 

Interested in shaping your future workplace? The Labor-Management Partnership Program has resources available to get started. For more on IUPAT’s Bridge program you can contact the International Finishing Trades Institute.


Andrew Hasty is a senior advisor on detail with the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.  

Darnice Marsh is the labor-management partnership coordinator in the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.