On a trip to the West Coast last week, I toured the Electrical Apprenticeship Training Facility run jointly by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 6 and the San Francisco Electrical Contractors Association. They offer a 5-year program where apprentices get extensive classroom instruction on electrical theory, helping them answer some of most complicated circuitry problems as they get continual hands-on experience. The program has a 93 percent completion rate, with graduates earning pay of up to $56 per hour.
I met a journeyman named Anthony there, and he described how the program gave him a “golden ticket” to the middle class. I also talked with Jessica, a remarkable woman who had attended college but wasn’t finding a successful career pathway. Then she entered the program, eventually becoming a finalist for regional apprentice of the year. Now she’s earning great money and was just promoted to be a foreman.
President Obama wants to see more of these success stories. Empowering Americans with the skills they need to succeed in good jobs is a linchpin of his opportunity agenda. And he knows that apprenticeship programs are one of the best avenues we have for helping Americans acquire those skills.
So, in his 2015 budget released last week, he proposed a $2 billion fund to double the number of Registered Apprenticeships over the next 5 years. As he said: “While not all of today’s good jobs are going to require a four-year college degree, more and more of them are going to require some form of higher education or specialized training … So this budget expands apprenticeships to connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.”
Just hours after my visit to the apprenticeship facility in San Francisco, I took a redeye back to Washington to participate in a meeting of my Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship – an expert group of leaders from business, labor unions and government. The committee discussed strategies to help expand career opportunities in all industries through Registered Apprenticeship. We’re working to simplify the process of registering an apprenticeship program, encouraging more use of apprenticeships in federal contracting and coordinating with federal agencies to break down barriers that may impede the use of apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships have been a proud American tradition for decades, particularly in trades like construction and plumbing. But the apprenticeship training model can be just as well applied to occupations that require specialized training in fields like health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing, among others.
Even though apprenticeships are a tried-and-true workforce development strategy globally, they’ve been underutilized and undervalued here in the United States. But the secret is getting out – employers who use apprenticeship programs know that their workforce is more prepared, productive and credentialed.
Apprenticeships – they’re good for workers seeking ladders of opportunity; they’re good for businesses seeking a competitive advantage. With the president’s support, we’re poised to grow and improve them, to make them a stronger pillar in our skills infrastructure.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.