DALLAS — A presidential task force that has for the past several months been looking at ways to improve apprenticeships is expected to send recommendations to the White House by mid May, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) could begin implementing a plan by mid June, according to a DOL official.
The President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion — on which Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), serves — plans to hold its fifth and final meeting on May 10 and then will forward recommendations to the president, said Rosemary Lahasky, acting assistant secretary for employment and training at the department. DOL hopes to “get things rolling” in regards to those recommendations by June 15, she added.
The recommendations will include a glossary that will clearly define terms, Lahasky said. Community college leaders and other education advocates have asked about the differences between registered apprenticeships — which are formal programs approved by DOL — and recognized apprenticeships, which are less formal. The Trump administration wants to expand apprenticeships mainly through the industry-recognized track, and hopes Congress will allow such programs to be eligible for federal apprenticeship funding. Currently, only registered apprenticeships can participate in the federal apprenticeship program, which in March received $145 million in fiscal year 2018 funding.
“We’re looking at new ways to look at earn-and-learn programs,” said Lahasky, who spoke Sunday at a spotlight session at the AACC annual convention.
Looking for scale
DOL would like to see more programs in industries that don’t typically have apprenticeships, such as health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing, which could benefit from such programs. Recognized apprenticeships might be more appealing than registered apprenticeships because they don’t require as much paperwork with the federal government, which can take up to a year to be approved. Also, many community colleges already have such partnerships with local business and industry.
“We’re looking to expand what’s already happening for the most part” at community colleges, Lahasky said.
The department is also interested in efforts — especially ones that include consortia of colleges and businesses — that can be scaled, said Lahasky, who cited the regional efforts developed through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training program. It provided nearly $2 billion to community colleges’ workforce efforts. Although the program no longer receives federal funds, there are elements of it that DOL may want to replicate in it’s efforts.
“The secretary (Alexander Acosta) is interested in growing the workforce quickly” to meet increasing demands, Lahasky said.
Session attendees asked about potential funding for the expanded apprenticeships and related programs. Lahasky recommended that colleges also look at Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs, especially for pre-apprenticeship efforts. She added that DOL is willing to review its previous guidance on various programs, including registered apprenticeships, to see if can “refresh” parts in order to streamline the process and remove potential barriers for colleges who want to participate.
Successful earn-and-learn programs
The spotlight session also highlighted various work-based learning programs at community colleges, from dual enrollment and tech prep, to internships and pre-apprenticeships.
Harper College in Illinois has been a leader in developing apprenticeship programs in areas such as insurance, banking and finance, and cyber security, to name a few. It’s been successful in drawing in students who are attracted to getting paid to learn a craft, attend college and having a job at the end of the apprenticeship, said President Kenneth Ender. He highlighted the college’s program with the German-based insurance company Zurich, which pays apprentices $30,000 while they are in the program, with pay upgrades, and a starting job at $55,000 when the three-year program is completed.
“We have no problems getting applicants,” said Ender, who last week returned from a 12-day visit to Germany and Poland with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to see apprenticeships in those countries.
Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of the San Jacinto College District in Texas, detailed her college’s partnerships with construction and petrochemical companies — especially Dow Chemical Corp. — and noted that it is looking to develop work-based learning opportunities with the maritime industry, NASA Johnson Space Center and Nestle, which wants to work with the college on advanced manufacturing.
A consistent challenge for workforce advocates is getting enough students to explore trade jobs as potential careers. Lahasky floated the idea of colleges offering semester-at-work opportunities, similar to semester-abroad programs, that would allow students to get college credit and work experience while they explore careers at, say, a police or fire fighting academy.
Community colleges have increased the number of programs that reach into K-12, and students are eager to enroll. Sinclair Community College (SCC) in Ohio has seen its dual enrollment program increase from 500 students five years ago to 5,000 this year, with another 1,000 expected to participate next year, said SCC President Steven Johnson. In addition, the college has 16,000 students participating in its tech-prep program.
“There’s fruitful ground there,” Johnson said.
In rural North Carolina, Vance-Granville Community College sends a community college coach to local high schools to raise awareness about the trades, and recently college officials have reached out to the state homeschool association to discuss apprenticeship opportunities for home-schooled students, said President Stelfanie Williams. The college also started a summer experience program for faculty to allow them to visit local companies to get a first-hand look at what employers need in their employees.
San Jacinto College has a speakers bureau through which business representatives go to local middle and high schools to talk about trade careers. This spring, the bureau reached some 10,0000 students, Hellyer said.
Diversity in apprenticeships is crucial, Williams said. Often, low-income students are overlooked for paid work-based learning, she said.
Apprenticeships can offer businesses an opportunity to diversify their workforce, Ender added. He noted that the insurance industry is traditionally very white, so Zurich was pleasantly surprised to see that only two of the 25 apprentices in the first cohort were white. Ender told a Zurich executive that it was because the company had not worked with community colleges, which have a diverse student body.