Bringing disconnected youths back

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) asks U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh about the department's budget request at Wednesday's appropriations hearing. (Image from streamed hearing)

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh wants to use work-based learning opportunities such as apprenticeships to re-engage students who left school during the Covid pandemic and get them on a career path. The challenge, he said during a Senate appropriations hearing on Wednesday, is reaching them.

“We need to go out and find the young people,” Walsh said at the subcommittee hearing, noting the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and its partners need to be more intentional in their efforts to recruit youth to apprenticeships. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) prompted the answer when she noted that fewer youths were graduating high school and attending college — especially community college — because of Covid. And a significant number stopped out of college during the pandemic and haven’t returned.

Part of the problem may be that many youths don’t know about programs such as Job Corps or apprenticeships or what they do, Walsh said. He mentioned that when he was mayor of Boston, he himself didn’t know that there were two Job Corps centers in the city, adding that Job Corps is an especially underutilized program.

“We have to do a better job of explaining what those programs are,” Walsh said.

Focused on apprenticeships

As he did during a House hearing Tuesday on DOL priorities and policies, Walsh emphasized the department’s focus on registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships as an important workforce development model to get more Americans into good-paying jobs more quickly and without a required college degree. And he reiterated that apprenticeships can help bring in underrepresented populations, such as people of color and women, into sectors with little diversity. He added that pre-apprenticeships are a good way to introduce younger students to potential careers that don’t require a college degree, which members from both parties agreed with.

Walsh emphasized that he wants the model used more in fields such as IT and healthcare, adding that he hopes to give appropriators an update on that effort next year.

Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) said he supports registered apprenticeships, but they are underused in fields like IT and healthcare because employers say they are not “flexible” enough to serve those industries. Blunt also said he was surprised that the administration is seeking an overall DOL budget that is 13% higher than the funding bill for the current fiscal year that was approved just a few months ago.

“I wouldn’t expect to see that, if I was you,” Blunt told Walsh about the increase request.

The child-care dilemma

Several lawmakers also asked Walsh about the lack of affordable child-care options, which may be keeping a significant number of Americans from seeking jobs. The secretary noted that good child care has been a challenge as the Covid pandemic prompted the closure of many companies in an industry that typically offers low pay. The solution will require a partnership between federal, state and local governments as well as private entities, he said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) said her state recently received a DOL grant to pilot a child-care apprenticeship program. Walsh said paying apprentices, even learners in pre-apprenticeships, is critical to retaining them in the programs through completion.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.