On Wednesday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Pennsylvania to announce new actions to enhance job-driven training across America. A key focus of the president’s remarks was how apprenticeships are one of the clearest paths to good, high-paying jobs. As he mentioned, 9 out of 10 apprentices get hired for full-time jobs after completing their program, and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is more than $50,000. Expanding apprenticeship opportunities will give more Americans a chance to secure a foothold in the middle class.
Several new efforts will help double the number of apprenticeships over the next five years, a goal the president laid out in his State of the Union address. For the first time, the Labor Department is making $100 million available help more workers participate in apprenticeships. The grant competition will launch this fall and will be funded by fees employers pay through the H-1B visa program to hire temporary high-skilled foreign workers.
Using these existing funds, the new American Apprenticeship Grants competition will focus on partnerships between employers, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system, nonprofits and faith-based organizations. These partnerships will help expand tried-and-true apprenticeship models to newer, high-growth fields like information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing; making sure apprenticeships are a launch pad for further learning and career advancement; and scaling up those apprenticeship models that have been effective.
The president also announced new partnerships on the federal side as well. The Labor Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are teaming up to increase veterans’ access to apprenticeships. We are collaborating to make it easier for employers to provide a fast track for their veteran employees to access GI Bill benefits for registered apprenticeship programs. This will help make sure more than 9,000 veterans in apprenticeship programs – like Erick Valera – receive the benefits they have earned.
Employers around the country also understand that apprenticeship programs can help make sure their workforce more prepared, productive and better trained than the competition. On Wednesday, President Obama highlighted several new efforts by businesses, unions and training institutions to help grow apprenticeships:
- Businesses like Dow, Alcoa, and Siemens, representing the president’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership are partnering with community colleges to develop apprenticeship programs in high-skill manufacturing jobs.
- The United Auto Workers − in partnership with employers like Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, John Deere and others − will add nearly 2,000 apprentices over the next year.
- And UPS has pledged to add 2,000 new apprentices for occupations in new programs like IT, operations and automotive repair.
Wednesday’s announcements follow an initiative unveiled the previous week to offer college-to-career opportunities for apprentices nationwide like Kevin Burton. A Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium − a partnership among community colleges, national accreditors, employers, and major apprenticeship sponsors − will make it possible for apprenticeship graduates to earn credits that will transfer to any community college in the consortium they attend.
Apprenticeships have been instrumental to our economic success for generations. We are excited to see the president fulfill his mission to make 2014 a year of action by building on what works and transforming apprenticeships for the 21st century.
Eric Seleznow is the acting assistant secretary of labor for employment and training.