The UAW and the Big Three auto companies are negotiating renewal of their contract toward a Sept. 14 deadline. You can expect the union to submit a list of demands that will reflect the wishes of its membership.

Management will strongly oppose many of these demands as being not conducive to the viability of the company. The company, on the other hand, will be striving to improve its profitability and competitive position by demanding fewer restrictions. The union may feel that fewer restrictions, at least to the extent management would like, is something they can't live with.

These negotiations present a wonderful opportunity to introduce innovative programs that would be beneficial to both sides. I would like to suggest resurrecting apprentice programs. These training programs have simply languished in recent years, and I would suspect that these programs, among other things, were not kept current and eventually did not meet the requirements of the fast-changing and higher levels of technology used in today's factories.

It would seem apparent that a skilled-trade training program must be upgraded to reflect new technology. As an inducement, and maybe to remove some of the stigma associated with factory trades, I would make completion of the program comparable to a college degree. Considering the level of technology now required, completion of the program would earn a bachelor of trades. To follow that up, some business courses could lead to a master of trades degree.

This program would benefit not only the union and the company, but the entire country.

Everyone else is pushing college degrees. Academia has been very convincing in promoting the idea that everyone should get a college degree. Besides being practically the only one left to support a bachelor of trades program, the union also has the political clout to get the necessary state and federal aid. Union involvement in this program would have to go beyond mere support; it would have to act as its patron.

The program I envision would be a long-term commitment and structured to be independent of the normal ups and downs of the industry. In this way a student could reasonably be assured a job after he/she completed the program. It would not be too difficult to accomplish. A proper ratio of graduates to journeymen could be maintained based on natural attrition and retirements. Proper planning of manpower requirements would minimize most problems, such as adding grads and laying off journeymen.

It also would be a good idea to expose a potential tradesman to all phases of a plant's operations. It's not that they would become an expert in all plant operations, but at least they would know how to interface with each other. Beyond this training, a person could use his or her bachelor or master of trades as a stepping stone to an engineering degree. That grad could then become an even more valuable employee, an engineer with practical experience.