2019 Update: Creating Apprenticeships at the State and Federal Level

As Los Angeles continues to be an expensive place to live, the cost of workforce training can serve as a significant barrier to attaining high skill jobs.  Apprenticeships help individuals overcome that challenge by providing a “learn and earn” path to get paid while getting hands on experience. Approximately 91 percent of Americans who complete an apprenticeship find employment directly after program completion.

When we provided an update on this workforce development strategy last year, both President Trump and Governor Newsom had put forward highly ambitious goals to expand apprenticeships nationally and in California.  While there is good evidence of progress, considerable work remains to meet the stated targets.

State Progress

As part of his 2018 campaign for governor, Gavin Newsom pledged to create 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029.  This is over 5x the 92,000 apprenticeships that exist today.

To this end, the state of California has been taking steps in the right direction.  As a point of comparison, there were only 53,000 registered apprenticeships in 2015.  There are now almost 3,000 programs in operation, with 149 of those programs created last year.  In the past 4 years alone, the state has launched several pilots to expand the model into new industries and new occupations.

One of the strategies Governor Newsom had pledged to pursue is to increase apprenticeships in industries outside of the building trades, such as in clean energy technologies, healthcare, mass transit and water industries.  The recently enacted state budget includes a total of $165 million in 2019 – 2024 (or $33 million per year) for workforce development projects, including apprenticeships, called for by California’s Cap and Trade laws. Funding comes from the state’s Cap and Trade program, which incentivizes companies to cut emissions or pay to pollute. The Department of Finance estimates that these programs will train 5,100 people for apprenticeships and other jobs the prepares workers for jobs in a carbon-neutral economy, such as in the construction industry where they would build the necessary infrastructure.

Governor Newsom’s 2019-2020 proposed budget also included $27 million to provide apprenticeships and job training for disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by climate change, but it was not ultimately funded in the budget.

In December 2018, the James Irvine Foundation, Salesforce.org and JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning created a comprehensive report titled “Closing the Gap” to advance apprenticeships in California. This report was optimistic about the Governor’s proposal to dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships  in the coming years, given the groundwork already established, while cautioning policymakers to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current programs. 


Federal Progress

Since 2013, there has been a 56 percent growth in apprenticeships in the U.S from 375,000 apprenticeships to 585,000 by the end of 2018.  In 2018, 3,229 new apprenticeship programs were established nationwide.

In 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13801 that he said would “create apprenticeships for millions of our citizens”.  Current efforts fall short of that goal and it is unclear how many additional apprenticeships will be created nationally in the years to come.  So far, there has been a mix of success stories and false starts. For example:

  • An allocation of $183.8 million dollars in June 2019, collected from HB-1 visa fees, that will go to grants to establish public-private partnerships to create apprenticeships in the fields of manufacturing, information technology and healthcare. This effort is projected to create 85,000 new apprenticeships.
  • The Department of Labor’s announcement that it will launch Apprenticeship.gov, which connects job seekers, employers, teachers, nonprofits and numerous stakeholders to aid in the formation of apprenticeships.  People can apply for apprenticeships directly on the site. Overall, the Department of Labor has connected many people to apprenticeships since launching the tool, though exact numbers are still to be determined.
  • No progress in the development of Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP), which allow trade associations and other non-governmental entities to certify apprenticeship programs as meeting industry standards without direct approval by a governmental entity.  The proposed process was intended to make it easier for businesses to gain approval for new apprenticeship programs, a longstanding barrier, while also putting in place quality assurance standards in industries where apprenticeships are not well utilized. The difficulty of achieving a balance between the easing of regulatory burdens with maintaining program quality is the key reason why this initiative has stalled.
Moving Forward

Even with recent success in creating apprenticeship programs across the country, compared to most developed nations, the U.S. lags behind in creating these opportunities for citizens.  While 2 million students enroll in college each year, only 500,000 apprenticeships are currently available and only 2% of students aged 18-24 hold an apprenticeship. Bridging the gap between executive commitment and the resources to implement an expansion continues to be the reason why more than modest progress has not been made.