Congress Eyes Major Expansion of Apprenticeship Programs

Staff Writer
a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A measure moving through Congress would greatly expand apprenticeship programs for students  pursuing careers in areas including computer science, green jobs, and cybersecurity.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a bipartisan measure that calls for more than $3.5 billion in spending on apprenticeships over five years.

It tasks the U.S. Labor and Education secretaries with striking an interagency agreement to align national apprenticeship programs with secondary and adult education.

The bill would authorize an increase in the amount of federal funding provided to states to support the administration of those programs, including businesses involved in career-focused training and the apprentices themselves, said Katie Spiker, director of government affairs for the National Skills Coalition.

It’s unclear whether Congress would actually appropriate up to the allowable amount provided in the bill.

Congress appropriated $185 million to registered apprenticeship programs in annual spending legislation passed in 2020.

Many state and district officials see support for computer science, coding, and other STEM-related studies as an important strategy for long-term job creation. And education companies have increased their focus on computer science training for students.

“These investments will provide more 21st century job opportunities for our kids, more qualified employees for our local employers, and more economic resiliency for our communities,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., in a statement. The lawmaker introduced an amendment to promote computer science programs that was ultimately adopted into the legislation.

The National Apprenticeship Act now heads to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for further consideration.

Senate HELP Committee spokesperson Maddy Russak said committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., is “pleased the House has passed this important legislation and is looking at all options to expand apprenticeship opportunities as quickly as possible.”

If enacted, the bill would mark the first time since 1937 that the national apprenticeship system has been comprehensively updated.

Dubbed the National Apprenticeship Act, the legislation also directs the agencies to find ways to inform parents and students no later than middle school of programs under the national apprenticeship system and their value in choosing careers.

In addition, the legislation instructs the Labor Department’s office of apprenticeship to award grants to expand national apprenticeship programs, including pre-apprenticeships and youth apprenticeships, and to strengthen alignment between the apprenticeship system and education providers, according to a bill summary.

Industry Partnerships

The National Apprenticeship Act also charts a process for state agencies to gain recognition as state apprenticeship agencies, which would have sole authority over recognizing and registering pre-apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, or apprenticeship programs in their given states.

These agencies would be charged with determining whether apprenticeship programs are in compliance with federal apprenticeship standards, and providing a certificate of recognition for these programs, among other things.

Under the bill, certain private education entities also could receive grant funding if they provide apprenticeships.

The money can support industry partnerships, trade associations, “a group of employers,” and professional associations that sponsor or participate in a program under the national apprenticeship system.

Organizations backing the legislation include the National Skills Coalition, the Association for Career and Technical Education, and the National Urban League.

Photo of the U.S. Capitol by Susan Walsh/AP.

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