NEW ORLEANS — Both the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) agree that apprenticeship programs are critical to reducing the skills gap and ensuring a path to family-sustaining jobs.
As a result, AACC President and CEO Walter G. Bumphus and Diane Jones, senior policy advisor to the U.S. labor secretary, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Wednesday at AACC’s Workforce Development Institute to work together to expand apprenticeship programs. The MOU provides a framework under which AACC and the Department of Labor (DOL) will share best practices and provide joint support for apprenticeship initiatives involving partnerships of community colleges and employers.
DOL will provide technical assistance and resources to help AACC and its member colleges create innovate apprenticeship programs. AACC will explore the development of a “community college virtual apprenticeship network” (VAN), comprising AACC member colleges, secondary and higher educational institutions, training providers, industry employer partners and industry-led consortia. The VAN could validate community college programs, identify and match industry partners to appropriate colleges that have industry-led consortia and scale up successful strategies to benefit the wider AACC membership.
DOL and AACC also agreed to work together to promote the cross-employer recognition of competencies and professional credentials obtained by individuals who successfully complete apprenticeship programs.
A key role
Jones told community college officials that the MOU builds on President Donald Trump’s executive order issued last June to provide more flexibility for employers to create industry-recognized apprenticeships.
Bumphus serves on a task force on apprenticeships created by the White House, along with leaders from government, nonprofits and the private sector. “His experience and the collective experience of the members of AACC are a tremendous resource,” Jones said.
The task force held its first meeting in November and will meet again in February. Among the issues it is tackling, Jones said, include how apprenticeship programs fit with prior learning, competency-based education and accreditation requirements.
Apprenticeship programs in partnership with community colleges are important because there is careful coordination between what students learn in class and what they do on the job, she said, noting, “Some students need real-time experiences to stay engaged in learning.”
“We have to appeal to people’s need to work in an area for which they have a passion,” Jones said. “The people who produce, repair and create love their work.”
It’s wrong to only value “knowledge work,” she added. “The difference between knowledge work and skilled work is artificial.” In today’s world, “knowledge and skills are inextricably linked.”
In fact, a vocational career doesn’t disqualify people from pursuing higher education, she said. “We’ve talked about lifelong learning for decades. Now, it’s a necessity.”