U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh this week emphasized the Biden administration’s support for using registered apprenticeships as a key workforce development strategy to fill job openings — particularly in technology — and as a way to grow diversity in the sector.
Walsh, who spoke Wednesday at an Urban Institute event to discuss how registered apprenticeships can help small- and medium-sized tech businesses, said the U.S. needs to scale up its use of apprenticeships for them to have the same impact as in Europe. Apprenticeship advocates are helping to develop and expand apprenticeship programs through high schools and community colleges as alternative career pathways, he said.
“Registered apprenticeships [are] one of the most proven, powerful strategies we have,” he said, noting that employers in myriad industries are recognizing the value of the programs. Although technology is relatively new to apprenticeships, in 2022 nearly 5,000 apprenticeships were offered in just information technology, he said.
A diversity tool
Apprenticeships can also help to advance equity by including more women, people of color, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those who need second chances, Walsh said.
“If we’re thinking about creating a pathway into an industry, the best way of doing that for someone who may not have the skills or the ability or the revenue to go to college or go to a community college is through apprenticeship programs,” he said.
Google at the event announced a $2 million grant to Urban Institute to support small business owners in designing quality apprenticeship programs, with a focus on North and South Carolina.
Wednesday’s event also featured apprentices and leaders of several small tech businesses that have had success with apprenticeships. Historically, many small and medium-sized companies have said running registered apprenticeships is too time-consuming and costly for them. Business owners on the panel agreed that there are upfront costs associated with apprenticeships, but in their experiences the programs have paid off in only a few months.
Several panelists also echoed that it’s time to change hiring practices, with companies often requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry-level tech jobs. Odette Nemes, head of growth at Onramp, noted apprentices at tech companies are often promoted faster than new hires with four-year degrees because they already have valuable work experience.
Karan Bhatia, global head of government affairs and public policy at Google, agreed that the technology industry shouldn’t be limited to just those with college degrees, adding that degrees can exclude potential talent. There’s also an equity issue, he said, noting that requiring a degree excludes 70% of African-American workers and 80% of Latino workers.