Drawing lines on apprenticeships

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (left) and Ivanka Trump look on as President Donald Trump takes a tour of an advanced manufacturing lab at an Iowa community college on Thursday. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

Both sides of the aisle in Congress champion the value of apprenticeships in developing skilled workers for available jobs. But the common ground ends there: Democrats prefer government-recognized registered apprenticeships, while Republicans lean toward industry-recognized apprenticeships, which include fewer rules and regulations.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday held a hearing that focused on modernizing apprenticeships to expand opportunities. The opening statements from committee chair Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) and ranking minority member Sen. Patty Murray (Washington) set the debate, with Alexander arguing that registered apprenticeships limit creativity and flexibility that employers seek because of cumbersome administrative red tape. More companies want less-formal, industry-recognized apprenticeships that allow them to work on specific skill sets, he said, adding they also are more appealing to industries such as health care and information technology that don’t traditionally offer apprenticeships.

Murray countered that registered apprenticeships ensure rigor and program quality. She said GOP efforts to encourage more nonregistered programs is designed to “weaken and water down” programs and to open the training market to for-profit institutions. She added that Workforce Innovative and Opportunity Act-funded programs also provide quality assurance for training programs.

Different models

The hearing included representatives from business and industry and unions, which argued for more nonregistered and registered apprenticeships, respectively.

Montez King, executive director of National Institute for Metalworking Skills, brought Lego blocks to illustrate his point regarding the rigidity of the registered apprenticeship program. He said the blocks represent skill metrics. Companies can piece together what they need. The registered apprenticeship model, however, is like a “Legos house that’s already built” and programs have to wedge into that model.

The institute is working with Raytheon’s missile division to launch an apprenticeship that won’t fit within the rules of registered apprenticeships.

“This design is revolutionizing the culture of Raytheon and is accelerating learning at velocity parallel to the innovative technologies of the organization,” he said.

For example, prior to implementing the model, “maybe 15” of Raytheon’s 500 machinists were apprentices. Today, all 500 machinists are apprentices, including even support staff such as a sales person or estimator who can tap the apprenticeship program when they need to update their skills.

“Innovation is the real driver of expansion, not rules and restrictions,” King said.

BASF Corp., one of the largest producers of chemicals and other products in the U.S., is testing a model it calls “sequence apprenticeships,” which leverages college scholarships and work-placed internships, according to Glenn Johnson, the company’s workforce development leader. BASF will present the model in the coming weeks for approval as a registered apprenticeship.

If approved by the U.S. Labor Department, the company wants to replicate the model across the company and share it with other industries, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, in Iowa

While the Senate committee wrapped up its hearing, President Trump was in Iowa at a community college participating in a roundtable discussion on workforce development that included representatives from business and industry, students, and local, state and federal government officials.

Ivanka Trump kicked off the discussion by noting that the House this week passed a Senate bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. She said it will help 11 million students and workers across the country acquire the technical skills they need to thrive in an increasingly digital economy.

“It’s going to be really transformative to education across the country,” she said of the bill, which the president has indicated he will sign.

Several of the speakers — including students who are apprentices and employers who provide apprenticeships — emphasized the importance of highlighting jobs that don’t require some postsecondary education, but not necessarily a baccalaureate.

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta lauded the companies who last week pledged at a White House event to provide work-based learning to nearly 4 million students and workers. He also gave kudos to businesses in Iowa, who plan to provide 50,000 training opportunities to state residents.

“That’s transformative,” Acosta said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.