Giving Apprentices More Tools to Succeed

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.

Kevin Burton

Kevin Burton completed the IBEW Local 26 electrical apprenticeship program, received a bachelor's degree and enrolled in law school.

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.

Vice President Joe Biden gives remarks to the American Association of Community Colleges with Dr. Biden, in the international Ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park, in Washington, D.C., April 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

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

Eric Seleznow is the deputy assistant secretary for employment and training.


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  1. Talin says:

    Great Article! Our local school district just had an open house night for students to meet representatives from trades and apprenticeship programs. I think these type out of the box programs are a great option for the next generation, who have clearly said they don’t intend to follow traditional routes.

  2. Karl Jaensch says:

    As my e-mail address shows, I work for a State workforce agency so I need to stress that the following comment expresses only my own, personal opinion.

    While no one can object to the linkage of apprenticeship with academia I see one downside. That’s the implication that this linkage sort of ennobles vocational learning and the craft skills learned on the job via formal apprenticeship.

    I see this as a downside because I think one of the problems facing the US workforce system is the notion that the only way young people can be successful is by getting an academic degree. Even though spending four/five/six years doing that in an environment that’s not well connected to reality and getting saddled with a large debt burden at the beginning of one’s working life does not make total sense to many young people.

    I think DOL needs to also seek to change the paradigm by stressing that being a skilled craftsman or doing other work that does not require a college degree is noble and worthy and deserves to be well compensated.

  3. Observer says:

    “This initiative will help apprenticeship graduates not only gain access to jobs that lead to a sustainable career” If apprenticeship graduates need to gain access to jobs, they are probably not in an apprenticeship. A graduated apprentice is already employed and continues after their apprenticeship in being employed in their chosen career.

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