National Apprenticeship Week: The Time to Rethink Apprenticeships is Now

In June of 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order titled, “Expanding Apprenticeships in America.” This order called for the creation of a special Task Force to identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships in the United States. To meet this challenge, Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta brought together representatives from companies, labor unions, trade associations, educational institutions and public agencies. On May 10, the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion submitted a report to the President that provided a strategy to create more apprenticeships in the United States through an Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship model.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to build on the traditional registered apprenticeship concept by creating a pathway to new, industry-recognized apprenticeships. The final report lays out that proposal as the first step toward the goal of expanding apprenticeships broadly over the next five years. Secretary DeVos helped lead the Task Force, saying, “Apprenticeships give students proven and meaningful ways to gain skills and kickstart fulfilling careers…We must continue our efforts to strengthen workforce readiness and increase the number of pathways available to students after high school.”

Families across the country are recognizing the importance and influence of apprenticeships.  The Department of Labor currently reports over 530,000 active registered apprentices in more than 2,300 programs. Employers are recognizing the value added by apprentices, with 42 percent more apprentices now than five years ago. These are students obtaining the skills they need to succeed while earning the wages needed to build financial security and families who are choosing not to add to the $1.5 trillion in outstanding federal student debt.

Not only are families recognizing the need for another workforce development and education solution, so are America’s business leaders. It is widely recognized that our country has a workforce skills gap—with more job vacancies than Americans with the skills needed to fill them. The Business Roundtable warns that the skills gap is holding our economy back and threatening our economic future. Among the gaps the roundtable emphasized was the lack of workers with specialized skills needed to fill many trade positions, such as advanced welders, energy service technicians, mechanics, electricians and tool and die makers. A 2015 Deloitte survey of manufacturing executives found that 84 percent believed there was a skills gap in the U.S. manufacturing industry and 66 percent had difficulty finding candidates for skilled production worker positions. Additionally, Deloitte estimated there will be 3.4 million vacancies in the manufacturing industry between 2015 and 2025 and 60 percent of these jobs—2 million jobs—will go unfilled due to the skills gap.

In the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, we recognize the importance of work-based learning opportunities for students. Young people cannot aspire to work in emerging career opportunities unless they have abundant chances to learn about them. This is why we support individual state efforts to expand apprenticeship opportunities for high school students. The purpose of the Pathways to STEM Apprenticeship for High School CTE Students grant program is to support state efforts at improving the transition of high school CTE students to postsecondary education and employment through apprenticeships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Funds were awarded to six state departments of education for a three-year project period: Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee. These states are working with area employers, local school districts and postsecondary partners to build apprenticeships in STEM fields for high school students.

Apprenticeship programs, when implemented effectively, can play a role in closing the skills gap. They equip students with skills that meet the needs of employers without burdening them with student debt. They provide students with more career pathways and post-secondary opportunities and leave students workforce ready. When done right, students seamlessly transition from high school into an apprenticeship, allowing them to quickly obtain a well-paying job in an in-demand field. Our country is at a crossroads.  How many more pathways could we create for young people and how many jobs could we fill by more easily enabling apprenticeships? The time to rethink the way we do education and workforce training is now.


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