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IMA Human Resources Blog

Investing In Apprenticeship, Investing In Our People



The Obama administration is “all in” on apprenticeship for a simple reason: it works. The learn-while-you-earn model is tried-and-true. It works for workers, it works for employers and it works for national economic growth. The average starting salary for an apprenticeship graduate is over $50,000 a year. On the employer side, apprenticeship is a great strategy for recruiting and retaining top-notch workers who keep the business productive and profitable. It’s a win for taxpayers, too – historically, for every $1 invested by the public in apprenticeship, we see about $27 in economic activity in return.

In early 2014, President Obama challenged us by setting an ambitious goal: to double the number of apprenticeships in the coming years and adapt this model for the 21st century. And we are well on our way. We’ve added 75,000 apprenticeships, the largest increase in nearly a decade.

To sustain and scale our progress today, the Department of Labor announced that we will invest $90 million to support state strategies to expand apprenticeship, catalyze industry partnerships in fast-growing and high-tech industries, and ensure that apprenticeship opportunities are available for all. This funding will support national efforts to make it easier for employers to start and for workers to find apprenticeship opportunities, no matter their ZIP code.

We were inspired by the 14 states that have increased their number of apprentices by more than 20 percent– for example, Iowa tripled state funds to support apprenticeship across key industries, and Connecticut launched a Manufacturing Innovation Fund to support employers engaged in apprenticeship expansion. To catalyze that kind of innovation, our investments will provide states with support to develop targeted game plans and encourage businesses to launch apprenticeship programs in a range of industries – including advanced manufacturing, health care, IT, construction and transportation. We want to help all states get in the apprenticeship game, regardless of where they are starting.

This announcement comes on the heels of our historic award of $175 million last September to expand apprenticeship into new industries and make these opportunities more accessible to women, communities of color and other underserved populations. Here at the Labor Department this week, we brought together those grantees for a few days of engagement and information sharing, and all of them are already making great progress toward their goals.

Our shared goal is not just to double, but also to diversify – so more people like LeDaya Epps can access the skills they need to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. LeDaya grew up in foster care and faced more than her fair share of adversity in life. She bounced from job to job but was struggling to settle into a career. Then she went to a job fair and signed up for a union apprenticeship in construction. She went through a rigorous boot camp, and now she’s got a great job on the crew building the new light rail system in Los Angeles, a job – and career path – that provides some security for herself and her three kids.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for lifting up apprenticeship, for a renewed commitment to this time-tested approach to workforce development. After all, there are 5.4 million job openings out there for the taking by people with the right training.

Apprenticeship is a centerpiece of this administration’s work because it’s an investment in the competitiveness of our businesses, the strength of our economy and the potential of our people. I believe we’re on the cusp of a game-changing apprenticeship movement, one that will help more people punch their ticket to the middle class − one that will usher in shared prosperity in the 21st century.