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Enhancing the "New" Apprenticeship through Federal Policy

By Rachel Crew and Mary Clagett 

As National Apprenticeship Week continues, we would like to highlight some of the federal policies and legislation that lawmakers are considering to further apprenticeship and the United States’ position in the global economy. 

Last year, the Obama Administration committed to increase the number of apprentices in the United States by 300,000 during fiscal year 2015—growing apprenticeships from 450,000 to 750,000. This year, the Administration has committed to expanding that goal by awarding $175 million in grants to train and hire more than 34,000 new apprentices in industries as diverse as health care, IT, and advanced manufacturing over the next 5 years. These grants, awarded through the U.S. Department of Labor have been awarded to 46 grantees who represent a mixture of private and public entities that have pledged to reinvigorate and increase apprenticeship programs in a diverse set of industries. 

New strategies like this one are responding to the needs of our changing economy and calls for the improved training opportunities for workers and employers. And Congress is listening.

Earlier this year, Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins introduced bipartisan legislation, the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2015, that would create a $5,000 tax credit for employers utilizing apprenticeship and job training programs in industries with increasingly high demand—such as IT, health care, and advanced manufacturing.  If enacted, the tax credit would be applied to wages earned by employees enrolled in such programs. The bill would also allow for veterans to receive credit for prior military experience as it relates to their chosen career path.  Interestingly, it would allow senior-level employees who are nearing retirement to begin drawing from their pensions if they train and mentor new recruits. This will surely be music to some industries ears as they prepare to lose more than half of their workforce to retirement over the next few years. 

Another alliance in support of apprenticeships has emerged between Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott who jointly introduced the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) Act. This bill would offer a federal tax credit to employers that hire new apprentices from apprenticeships that are registered with the Department of Labor or the state in which they operate. The tax credit would include $1,500 for apprentices less than 25 years of age and $1,000 for apprentices over 25. The ultimate goal of legislation is to help create programs for economically disadvantaged young Americans who are and can’t seem to forward in their lives or careers.

Senator Patty Murray is another Member of Congress who has provided leadership in this area. Last Congress, she introduced Promoting Apprenticeships for Credentials and Employment Act (PACE), which would strengthen and expand apprenticeship opportunities into new industry sectors. The intent of PACE would have been to implement the integration and alignment of registered apprenticeship programs with the workforce development and postsecondary education systems—resulting in new career pathways and greater economic security for workers. Notably, PACE would leverage and continue to build upon laws like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to increase apprenticeship opportunities and the skills attainment of American workers. 

Apprenticeships are not a new concept. To some, the idea of apprenticeship brings to mind an old-fashioned form of education and training. To the contrary, today’s apprenticeships can be a modern path to successful careers.  Between efforts of employers and workers on the ground, and those of policymakers, we could be in for a major resurgence of this effective model for the upskilling of American workers.