The 1930s-era federal apprenticeship law might get a much-needed update thanks to bipartisan legislation introduced in July.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are authoring The National Apprenticeship Act of 2023 to “modernize, streamline, and expand apprenticeship programs.” The bill seeks to help employers develop apprenticeship programs, especially in new, high-demand industries such as advanced manufacturing and renewable energy, invest in attracting new apprentices in urban and rural areas, and remove barriers for program participants such as childcare and transportation.
“To grow our economy, expand the middle class and meet businesses’ workforce demands, we need to ensure workers have access to the training and skills to land good-paying jobs,” Baldwin said in a July 2023 joint press release. “And apprenticeship programs are a time-tested way of doing just that.”
Ongoing workforce shortages are only exacerbated by the current inability of apprenticeship funding under existing law to be used for unique needs such as transportation and housing for students, Murkowski said.
“I’m proud to introduce bipartisan legislation to provide the flexibility and investments to allow states to bolster workforce training and address barriers to building a skilled workforce; this includes my provision to put in place a new rural apprenticeship demonstration program,” she said.
According to the press release, the Baldwin-Murkowski bill would:
- Provide small- and medium-sized employers with resources to create their own apprenticeship programs that attract talent with the skills they need.
- Facilitate development of apprenticeship programs in industries such as advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity/information technology, computer science, clean energy and other in-demand sectors.
- Implement new and innovative rural demonstration grants for low-density areas that have acute labor shortages.
- Improve services that help ensure potential apprentices can complete their training, including childcare, elder care, transportation and housing to.
- Streamline the application process for apprenticeships, enhance reciprocity for employers operating apprenticeship programs in multiple states, and encourage groups of employers to work with partners in labor, education and economic development to create sector partnerships for developing career pathways for new industries.
- Offer program sponsors with resources for attracting participants that experience barriers to employment or that come from populations that have not traditionally been involved in apprenticeship programs.
“I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of apprenticeships in Alaska,” Murkowski said. “They strengthen our workforce, promote a stronger economy, and bolster the development and sustainability of Alaska’s rural and remote communities. I’m excited about these new strategies that engage our youth to help meet our workforce needs.”
Apprenticeship programs provide earn-while-you-learn training that get workers access to high-paying careers in high-demand industries, the senators wrote.
Their press release cited Department of Labor statistics showing that 93% of participants who complete a registered apprenticeship program are employed when finished. They also earn an average starting wage of more than $77,000 annually. Moreover, businesses earn $1.44 back for every dollar invested toward their apprentices in a registered program.
“The National Apprenticeship Act will invest in our skilled workforce to connect more Wisconsinites with family-supporting careers, whether it be in the traditional trades like construction, plumbing, welding, and electrical work, or new and emerging industries like cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, and computer science,” Baldwin said. “This legislation will both help Wisconsinites get a job that gives them economic security and help businesses find the skilled workers they need.”