To grow jobs and incomes, invest in apprenticeships


The biggest economic challenge of our time is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Too often, they lack the skills and experience to access better jobs and earn family-sustaining wages.

Our policymaking should increase opportunities for people to develop in-demand skills and credentials that help people get good jobs with rising incomes. The fact is, by 2020, two out of three jobs will require education and training beyond the high school level. It is up to us to use our resources to meet this need and help all Americans succeed.

It is critical for our competitiveness—and for our leadership in global innovation—to have a pipeline of skilled workers. We must adapt and develop a strong, public workforce development system that meets businesses’ changing needs. The federal government has long played a key role in helping Americans workers learn and grow through workforce development and connecting businesses with talent.

Work-based learning and apprenticeship programs are equipping people with lucrative skills. Apprenticeships enable companies to build a pipeline of skilled workers with customized skills, while apprentices learn a lucrative trade. Across the country, 80,000 industries and companies offer registered apprenticeship training to 500,000 apprentices. The need for apprenticeships is stronger now than ever before.

That is why it is baffling that House Republicans have completely defunded the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Grant Program. This cut will have a profound negative impact for employers—who will not have highly-skilled workers ready to fill vacancies—and for job seekers, who will lose a critical resource for job training. During the Labor-HHS Appropriations markup, I offered an Amendment to restore $95 million to Apprenticeship Grants. Unfortunately, it was voted down along party lines. This is shameful.

These grants present a key opportunity to connect job-seekers with the business community. They are a valuable tool for our economy. At a time when workforce investment is critical for the economic security of the working class, we cannot eliminate this critical tool we have to give people the skills they need to thrive in the workforce. We need to enact policy that ensures that everyone can benefit from the economic recovery.

In fact, during the Department of Labor budget hearing with President Trump’s, secretary of Labor, Alexander AcostaRene (Alex) Alexander AcostaLabor Department seeks delay of Obama investment adviser rule Immigration critics find their champion in Trump Acosta, Trump’s Labor pick, is the right consensus candidate MORE testified that: “It’s a proven strategy that works. High quality apprenticeships and the emphasis on high quality enable workers to be involved in the training of their future workforce so that they can be sure that new hires possess the skills that are needed for the job.”

And he went on: “Apprentices receive wages and just as importantly skills. And along the way they earn while they learn. And that is just as important because that means they are not saddled with debt. Apprentices earn nationally recognized certificates of completion leading to long-term career opportunities.” Labor secretaries under Democrat and Republican administrations agree that apprenticeships are a valuable investment in our economic future. 

We cannot pull back on our recent investments in apprenticeships, which have a solid return on investment. International studies suggest that for every dollar spent on an apprenticeship, employers get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity and innovation.

However, at 500,000—the current number of apprenticeships represents only a sliver of the labor force. To be at the same level as Germany, we would need 16 times as many new apprentices.

If we are serious about creating a better deal for American workers, we need to increase the number of apprenticeships in this country, not slash resources for programs that grow good-paying jobs across the country.

DeLauro represents Connecticut’s 3rd District and is ranking member of the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee. 

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.