Speaking before Senate appropriators on Thursday, the U.S. labor secretary continued to champion the administration’s focus on apprenticeships as a key aspect to workforce development, emphasizing the need to expand nonregistered programs.
“On-the-job learning works. All the research shows that it is one of the best ways to provide jobs skills” as well as to help workers earn stackable credentials and develop a career path, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told members of the Senate subcommittee that oversee appropriations for labor and education programs.
However, only large companies can generally afford formal registered apprenticeship programs. A less-formal apprenticeship effort would open the door to middle and small businesses to work with industry to develop quality programs and serve more students and workers, said Acosta, whose department is seeking $200 million for apprenticeships for fiscal year 2019.
Talks with AACC
Community colleges are in the forefront of such efforts to work with business and industry in developing on-the-job learning programs, Acosta said, citing Truckee Meadows Community College (Nevada) and Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) as examples. He noted that he is in talks with Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges and a member of the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, to explore ways to support partnerships between community colleges and businesses.
“Businesses need to have skin in the game” in such efforts that is beyond just being labeled as a business partner, Acosta said. That can include in-kind or matching contributions or something similar.
“Where those interests are aligned…I have seen really incredible success,” he said.
But some Democrats were wary of providing federal funds for nonregistered apprenticeships. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) lauded the 50 percent increase in funding to $145 million for the registered apprenticeship program in the recently passed 2018 omnibus funding legislation, but said efforts to allow nonregistered programs to tap federal funds would “weaken” the program and could open the door to unscrupulous organizations tapping federal funds.
“It is critical that federal dollars are focused where there is strong evidence and a return on investment rather than on duplicative systems that do not guarantee quality training and provide fewer safeguards for workers and employers,” Murray said.