In my previous columns for Maintenance Technology (January and April 2014), I discussed the changing nature of apprenticeship and the multiple challenges that the model faces as it strives to remain an important and viable part of the United States’ workforce-development strategy. I spoke candidly about the need for increased incentives for employers that invest in developing apprenticeship programs and the need for direct support for our thousands of program sponsors, as well as the need for innovation in how we deliver apprenticeship training to ensure the long-term sustainability of the model.
This month, I am pleased to share with you my sense that the tide is indeed turning! I have seen more evidence of this positive shift in direction in the last several months than in the previous five years: Our elected officials and the Department of Labor’s (USDOL) Office of Apprenticeship are finally beginning to fully grasp the outstanding opportunity that we have to revitalize and reinvigorate the apprenticeship model. With its “earn-while-you-learn” format, the model is unequalled in its return-on-investment (ROI) potential and the pathways to the middle class it can offer our youth.
The right direction
As a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship and as Chairman of the Building & Construction Trades Department Standing Committee on Apprenticeship, I’ve had the opportunity to review draft legislation intended to provide tax credits to employers that hire apprentices. I’ve also reviewed legislation designed to renew and overhaul the funding and structure of our workforce-investment system.
Additionally, I recently participated in a high-level workforce-development meeting with Vice President Biden, Secretary of Labor Perez and a small group made up of workforce-development leaders from the private sector, government and labor, and several community-college presidents.
But most important, perhaps, from both a symbolic and practical perspective, President Obama has announced the availability of $100 million in funding to support the development and implementation of apprenticeship programs.
But more to do
What’s necessary to capitalize on this newly found (and growing) momentum? I believe we need to take three critical steps.
First, we need employers to carefully examine the apprenticeship model and determine if it works with their own business models. We do a great disservice if we promote apprenticeship without ensuring that these opportunities are available for those who are interested. We must never forget that the apprenticeship model only works if there are opportunities available.
Second, we need to continue our efforts in promoting to and educating employers, elected officials and the public on the benefits of apprenticeship. I am constantly reminded that what is obvious and apparent to those of us within the apprenticeship community is virtually undetectable/invisible to those who aren’t.
And third, we need to provide easier transitions for young men and women, dislocated workers, returning military veterans and the long-term unemployed into apprenticeship programs. I believe this can be most easily accomplished through the expanded use of pre-apprenticeship programs.
In my next Maintenance Technology column (October), I’ll address the unique benefits and opportunities that the pre-apprenticeship model offers. As part of that discussion, I’ll provide specific state-of-the-art examples that are helping transform the way we train our next generation of workers. MT