Momentum Building at the Federal and State Level for Apprenticeship Expansion

While apprenticeship programs have numerous strengths, including providing employers with a pipeline of talent with relevant skills and enabling that talent to acquire those skills debt free, they have been slow to gain traction in the US.  Recent developments at both the state and federal level, however, hold promise to grow apprenticeships into a sizeable pathway to high quality jobs.  

California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency announced the highest level of participation in its apprenticeship program this year, with 82,000 active apprenticeships in place.  The state is expected to reach near 100,000 apprenticeships by 2020, nearly double the 53,000 working in the state in 2015. This growth is due to an investment of $15 million per year for the last three years through the state Apprenticeship Initiative program.  That program is creating new apprenticeship opportunities in transportation and logistics, healthcare, IT and advanced manufacturing. Included are pre-apprenticeship programs that ready job seekers to enter registered apprenticeship programming. California currently has 900 apprentice and pre-apprentice programs.

Furthermore, gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom put forward the goal of establishing 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029 if elected to office.  While a detailed plan is not yet available, the high level strategy communicated will be to encourage businesses to become creators of talent by partnering with community colleges, creating a new vocational education pipeline of high-skill workers.  Growing sectors like advanced manufacturing, energy, health, information technology and hospitality will be the target for this expansion.

At the federal level, President Trump issued an executive order that pledges to double funding for apprenticeship programs.  In May, the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion he created in 2017 released its final report. Co-chaired by Secretaries Alexander Acosta, Betsy DeVos, and Wilbur Ross, and made up of representatives from business, labor, and higher education, the Task Force was charged with providing a roadmap for expanding apprenticeships.  The recommendations put forward include better integrating apprenticeship with higher education, building pathways for high school students to apprenticeship, building the apprenticeship research and evidence base, and calling out the value of competency versus time-based apprenticeship programs. Additionally, the Department of Labor recently issued guidelines for Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, 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 is 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.

Overall, these developments will create numerous opportunities as the number of jobs that could be filled by apprentices nationally is significant.  Harvard Business School professor Dr. Joseph Fuller in collaboration with Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that analyzes labor market trends, published a report last year that concluded 3.2 million additional jobs, including many white-collar positions such as graphic designer, human resource specialist and paralegal, could be filled by apprentices.  

There are currently over 500,000 federally registered apprenticeships in the US.  Germany, with an economy one-quarter of the size of the United States, reports 1.4 million.

The Los Angeles economy alone has extensive untapped potential for the expansion of apprenticeships.  Its diverse industries are comprised of a number of occupations that possess the characteristics naturally amenable to the apprenticeship model.  As a prime example, the Port of Los Angeles, whose operations and associated commerce generate 147,000 jobs in Los Angeles (1 in 13), has started the process to identify the occupations within the goods movement sector that are in demand and where targeted workforce training can be most beneficial to employers and potential employees.  

The Port is committed to playing a leadership role in encouraging and enabling employers to create apprenticeship programs for these occupations.  As one of their strategies to this end, their Workforce Development division is working with Jobs for Future (JFF), a national organization focused on apprenticeships, providing free technical assistance from experts at JFF to companies in Los Angeles interested in pursuing apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs.  

In addition, the Port is working with officials at the U.S. Department of Labor to bring resources to Los Angeles, which may include a future apprenticeship accelerator.  The event would be customized for employers in the goods movement, supply chain, and related industries interested in creating apprenticeship programs, followed by connections to federal and state officials that help map out program specifics and file associated paperwork.

We will continue to track progress on these efforts and determine where the Coalition can play an enabling role.  As a high cost region where employers frequently find it difficult to hire talent that could be developed through apprenticeships, Los Angeles stands to benefit greatly from the expansion of this model.