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Apprenticeships: A Vital Part of the Workforce

Apprenticeships are an important part of the labor market in the United States. They provide a hands-on training experience that can take the place of a traditional higher-level education. 


Some apprenticeships can even follow a degree or certification and can act as an entry into the workforce. 


These apprenticeships can be coordinated through the United States government or a local community college and can give people a livable wage and a skill or experience in a field, all while avoiding the debt that can come with a university degree.


Apprenticeships as we know them in the United States were legitimized through the Fitzgerald Act in 1937. Recently, the United States has seen a large increase in apprenticeships and opportunities to register apprenticeships with the government. 

As of November 2020, the U.S. Congress began to revise its current policy for apprenticeships with the proposed National Apprenticeship Act (NAA), which has since been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. 


The measure aims to boost the infrastructure for apprenticeships from local to federal levels, awarding grants for hiring and programs, providing technical assistance to state-level agencies and establishing rules for operating in states without apprenticeship offices. There is still work to be done to smooth the edges and foster a robust array of apprenticeship opportunities for those who need them.


The first improvement for apprenticeships should come from the sphere of technology. The NAA would begin to strengthen this aspect of the online support infrastructure on the level of state agencies and federal grant programs and make the communication between supporting agencies and reporting data more efficient. 


Another aspect of the data and technology side that needs improvement is employer engagement and access to best practices. The federal and state-level agencies must develop a streamlined way to organize employers on a larger scale than the one that currently exists. This aspect carries over into an “offline” sense. However, an association that exists online first can then create conditions for the organization in a more material and tangible sense.


The next area for improvement is funding. We should take advantage of the rare instance of support from bipartisan and grassroots efforts. The funding for apprenticeship on-the-job training should be reconsidered and expanded by allowing existing scholarships to be allocated toward apprenticeship endeavors or by creating new “scholarship” opportunities. 


On-the-job training is a highly expensive part of hiring for employers, and greasing the wheel for them by making it cheaper would then increase the willingness of employers to expand apprenticeship opportunities and hire more employees. This could convince some of the employers who have to register in multiple states to do so. 


A gender gap also exists in hiring and paying for apprenticeships. This must be rectified on a systemic level through regulation and education, beginning with implementing equal opportunity standards for hiring just as they apply to employment in other areas.


The final point for improving the U.S. apprenticeship system regards an education gap that calls for more support from public and private, early and higher learning institutions to foster apprenticeships as a valid option and course for those who either need certification or are unable to attend college.

 

The perception that apprenticeships will not eventually lead to gainful employment or even a college degree, is misinformed. The U.S. education system must become more flexible in how it allows credits from apprenticeships to carry over from institution to institution or from employer to employer.


Education in the U.S. should do more to accommodate and foster the existence of apprenticeship opportunities through scheduling and additional programs that promote the benefits for those who participate. 


Criticisms against these reforms usually rest in the monetary arena. This can be addressed by adjusting existing programs, such as the framework for scholarship opportunities, that exist for current college students, instead of creating additional programs.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Alex Joplin was the social issues policy shop team lead with OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION (ONC) and a Behavioral International Economic Development (BIED) Society fellow. Alex writes about American domestic and foreign affairs and has a particular specialization in U.S./Chinese relations.


Sources:

“H.R.8294 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): National Apprenticeship Act of 2020.” Congress.gov, 24 September 2020, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/8294.

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