Looking to scale up apprenticeships

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta spent much of his time Wednesday before the House Education and the Workforce Committee talking about apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are critical in educating new workers for available jobs, but they are not growing at a rate as envisioned, the U.S. labor secretary told House lawmakers on Wednesday.

“They are not growing at a rate that they could grow,” Alexander Acosta said during a hearing before the House Education and the Workforce Committee where he provided an update on the department’s priorities and lawmakers had an opportunity to ask questions, from administration’s funding requests to worker safety and even DACA and healthcare issues.

Acosta noted that he co-chaired this week the inaugural meeting of the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which includes members from education, business and industry, and other stakeholder sectors. Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), serves on the task force.

Members of the task force shared promising practices as well as challenges, Acosta said. There was interest in finding ways to expand formal and informal apprenticeships into sectors where they are not typically offered, such as health care and technology. However, even in the traditional industries that use apprenticeships there hasn’t been as much growth as hoped.

The secretary said “cumbersome” rules to registered apprenticeships is, in part, keeping companies out. He said the task force is looking at ways to streamline the process as well as finding ways to expand alternatives to formal registered apprenticeships.

To do that, the task force will examine what incentives and support could encourage more companies to participate in apprenticeships, Acosta said.

Government role

Rep. Jared Portis (D-Colorado) raised concerns that the proposed House tax reform bill could nix some of those incentives, such as offering tax deductions to companies that offer apprenticeships. He cited the CareerWise Colorado program, which includes apprenticeships in the finance and technology sectors.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-California), who along with other members of the committee has visited Switzerland to examine its apprenticeships, said that government involvement is important to ensure quality and to keep out unscrupulous organizations.

Acosta said he wants to see more apprenticeships spearheaded by the private sector and to limit the involvement of government — including funding. He cited companies in the building trades that pooled $1 billion to create 16 trade education centers across the country, with no federal funding.

While apprenticeships have broad support across both parties, some lawmakers emphasized that it’s important that they lead to good-paying jobs. Acosta emphasized that “outcome measures are critical,” noting that graduation rates and whether crendentials lead to those jobs is the goal.

Examples nationwide

(From left) AACC President Walter Bumphus introduces Steven Johnson of Sinclair Community College, Sandra Kurtinitis of the Community College of Baltimore County, San Jacinto College Chancellor Brenda Hellyer and Midlands Technical College President Ronald Rhames.

Later in the day, community colleges shared some of the different apprenticeship models at the AACC Fall Meeting in Arlington, Virginia. Sinclair Community College in Ohio, for example, just two months ago started a new apprenticeship program with DMax, which manufactures diesel motors for pickup trucks. Students start by earning $13 an hour and at the conclusion of the two-year program will earn $23 an hour, said President Steven Johnson. The college has another apprenticeship program with Festo, a German multinational automation company, which provides the classrooms and lab space at its facility.

In Maryland, the Community College of Baltimore County is part of a statewide construction craft professional program that serves carpenters, electricians, plumbers and others. About 1,300 students enroll annually in the program, with 200 to 250 students graduating, said President Sandra Kurtinitis.

San Jacinto College in Texas serves about 90 petrochemical companies in its area through its various programs, so working with Dow Chemical on an apprenticeship program for process and instrument operators was a natural fit, said Chancellor Brenda Hellyer. The company covers students’ tuition, fees and books, and they earn $10 an hour through the three-year program, with a starting salary of $60,000 upon completion, she said. The college plans to use the program as a model for new apprenticeships it is considering, such as one for carpenters and millwrights.

Midlands Technical College in South Carolina worked with Michelin, a major employer in its service area, to create a scholars program that includes a 20-hour-a-week job at the company, complete with salary and benefits, said President Ronald Rhames. The program serves 10 to 15 students annually, and about 95 percent of students who complete it go on to work for Michelin, he said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily.