After serving in the Army National Guard for six years as a radar repair specialist, Kevin Burton knew she wanted to continue developing her skills and pursue a career as an electrician. So she enrolled in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 electrical apprenticeship program, one of the top training programs in the country for that field. She was so proficient that she was asked to guide new apprentices as a part-time instructor.
But Kevin had an interest in more than just electrical work, and she knew getting a college degree would help her advance in her career. Through an agreement between the IBEW program and the University of Maryland University College, Kevin was able to apply her apprenticeship completion certificate toward 39 credits of a bachelor’s degree. This helped put her on the fast track to a degree in humanities and saved her thousands of dollars. After completing her degree, she became a full-time instructor for new apprentices and is now enrolled in law school.
There are millions of former apprentices like Kevin who have completed rigorous on-the-job training and classroom instruction and who might also benefit from a college education. Part of transforming apprenticeship for the 21st century means not having to choose between job training and getting a college degree.
That’s why the Labor Department, in partnership with the Department of Education, is launching the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, a new effort that will allow graduates of Registered Apprenticeship programs to turn their years of apprenticeship training into college credits toward an associate or bachelor’s degree. Vice President Joe Biden announced this initiative on Monday.
There is a common-sense connection between the knowledge and skills acquired through an apprenticeship program and what students learn in college coursework. What the RACC does is formalize a network of colleges and Registered Apprenticeship programs that can offer this college-to-career opportunity for apprentices nationwide. With the assistance of third-party evaluators, colleges can determine how many degree credits (up to 60) an apprenticeship certificate can count for.
This initiative will help apprenticeship graduates not only gain access to jobs that lead to a sustainable career, but also have better access to a post-secondary education — all with little or no debt. We hope it will serve as a stepping stone for millions more people like Kevin.
Eric Seleznow is the deputy assistant secretary for employment and training.