This week, the Siemens Foundation had the privilege of addressing an important group gathered together for the first time: the grant recipients of the American Apprenticeship initiative. Through the initiative, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $175 million to 46 successful public-private partnerships in 2015, the largest federal funding investment in apprenticeships ever made.
We are proud to provide technical assistance on these grants, and were excited to be a part of this meeting with grantees, our partners at the Labor Department and the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices. State agencies, community colleges, workforce development boards, community organizations and business partners gathered to share their plans for scaling apprenticeships in their own communities and facilitate a learning exchange for expanding apprenticeships in the United States.
This is a subject that is close to our heart. Siemens’ businesses have been working on adapting the famous German apprenticeship model to their operations and particular needs in the U.S. In fact, they’ve started apprenticeship programs in four cities: Charlotte, Sacramento, Atlanta, and Fort Payne, Alabama.
We’re passionate about scaling this “earn and learn” model in the U.S. Siemens knows firsthand how valuable apprenticeships are to growing the workforce needed to be successful. And, to be clear, Siemens has also experienced the challenges that many employers face when considering an apprenticeship program in this country.
But, most of all, Siemens leaders know how this pathway to postsecondary education and meaningful careers makes a difference in the lives of those who experience it.
And therein lies the “problem” with apprenticeship, and work-based learning in general: in the U.S., not that many people know about it, let alone participate in it.
Even though we know apprenticeships are effective, in the past, they’ve been fairly limited to a few occupations and industries. Youth, women and minorities have been underrepresented in them. Traditional higher education institutions often do not understand how to work with them. States may not have developed a strong enough infrastructure to support their growth. And employers may not know how to leverage them.
That’s why the Siemens Foundation decided to support the expansion of apprenticeships in the United States. When we designed our workforce development program, the STEM Middle-Skill Initiative, we knew a primary objective had to be scaling training models that work − and apprenticeships were at the top of that list.
We at the Siemens Foundation believe this is a pivotal moment for apprenticeships in the United States. For apprenticeships to flourish here, we need an ecosystem of companies, educational institutions, nonprofits and public sector partners driving them forward. And it must be woven into our educational system so it’s an option from the beginning, not one that needs to be discovered.
Initiatives like the Labor Department’s grant program are a great start. And I think no one is more capable than those participating in this week’s meeting to start putting together solutions. This is how the U.S. can make the transition to a system that creates more opportunity and trains young people for the jobs of the future.
David Etzwiler is CEO of the Siemens Foundation.