Apprenticeships, paid training programs that combine on-the-job training and classroom instruction, are an effective yet underused strategy for training workers for in-demand jobs. In 2014, in an effort to increase the use of apprenticeship as a pathway to middle-class employment, President Obama set a national goal to double the number of U.S. apprenticeships within five years.
Since then, the Department of Labor has made unprecedented investments to support the development and expansion of new and existing apprenticeship programs, announcing or awarding $265 million in funding, thanks, in part, to a historic, bipartisan agreement made by Congress and based on the president’s 2016 budget.
As part of that initiative, the Department of Labor is awarding 14 contracts to industry and workforce intermediaries to advance two major goals for expanding apprenticeship programs in the United States:
- expanding apprenticeships in new industries, and
- increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups to participate in apprenticeship programs.
According to the department, the majority of apprenticeship programs are in the construction industry. In 2015, 47 percent of active apprentices were construction apprentices. After construction, the next most popular industries outside of the military are public administration and manufacturing, which each account for around 5 percent of active apprentices.
Part of the challenge of expanding apprenticeship programs into new industries is that many industries lack the needed infrastructure. The building and construction trades have intermediary capacity, as well as a depth of institutional knowledge that allows them to develop and sustain new apprenticeship programs. Indeed, similar apprenticeship models from abroad depend on intermediaries to navigate across systems and key stakeholder groups.
However, other high-growth industries – such as advanced manufacturing, energy, health care, homeland security, hospitality, and transportation – are less experienced with the apprenticeship model, and often lack the expertise needed to develop high-quality programs, and engage employers and other key stakeholders.
Apprenticeships have also been limited in terms of who participates in them. Women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities have historically experienced challenges accessing and completing apprenticeship programs, particularly high-wage apprenticeship programs. According to the department, on average, in the last decade, just over 7 percent of all new enrollees in Registered Apprenticeship programs were women. Both women and people of color are overrepresented in lower-wage apprenticeship programs, and for people of color, there are disparities between their representation in apprenticeable occupations (compared to similar occupations that do not use apprenticeship), suggesting that there are specific barriers to participating in apprenticeship programs that do not exist in the broader labor force.
New industry and equity intermediaries will seek to address these challenges by playing the crucial role of convener, connecting employers with a range of key stakeholders – including the public workforce system, community and technical colleges, organized labor, community-based organizations, and others – in an effort to develop demand-driven training programs.
Industry intermediaries will be responsible for taking concrete steps to expand apprenticeships in high-growth occupations. Operating within a single sector, or across sectors to establish new programs, intermediaries will facilitate employer-led partnerships, provide technical assistance, and develop occupational standards to help guide partnerships establishing new apprenticeship programs.
Equity intermediaries will be responsible for improving racial and gender diversity in apprenticeship, as well as expanding apprenticeship opportunities for people with disabilities or for other underrepresented groups. Equity intermediaries will develop “opportunity partnerships” at either the national or regional level, will provide technical assistance, and will work across Labor Department apprenticeship initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion.
In a labor market that increasingly favors and rewards skilled workers, apprenticeships offer intensive skills training, a credential and middle-class wages. These new intermediaries will help build upon the progress the Obama administration has already made to ensure that more workers across the country have the opportunity to get a good job.
Carmel Martin is the executive vice president for policy and Angela Hanks is the associate director for workforce development policy at the Center for American Progress.