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House Passes Bill to Strengthen Apprenticeships

The bill would create 1 million new apprenticeship positions

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 09, 2021

A bill that would create 1 million new Registered Apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship, and pre-apprenticeship positions over the next five years has been passed by the House of Representatives and is now headed to the Senate for a vote.

The bill, known as H.R. 447 The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, would invest $3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen these programs and bring in a new generation of skilled tradesmen and women. The bill passed the House on February 5th with bi-partisan support. 219 Democrats and 28 Republicans voted for the bill.

Passing the bill has been a major objective for unions, especially within the Building Trades. During Trump’s time in office, he attempted to water down apprenticeship rules to help non-union contractors and groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). In addition to providing funding for these programs, the bill would also codify and streamline existing standards for Registered Apprenticeships and expand those standards to youth and pre-apprenticeship programs. It would also mitigate efforts in many states that are trying to weaken standards through delicensing and/or eliminating oversight boards.

According to a joint statement from the Plumbers union and their contractor groups, 94% of people who complete Registered Apprenticeships are employed upon completion and the average starting wage for these workers is $70,000 annually. This is a much higher employment percentage than recent college graduates, making Registered Apprenticeships one of the most successful federally-authorized workforce development programs. There are also more than 1,200 apprenticeable occupations in the United States that range from construction and military occupations to jobs in information technology (IT), finance, and health care. Even with this success rate and the need for more workers in these fields, apprenticeships make up just .3% of the overall workforce.

The bill also seeks to increase diversity in apprenticeship programs, especially those that are in high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand industries and sectors. It would also encourage employer participation and recruitment for individuals who face barriers to employment like those with criminal records.

"The brothers and sisters of the United Association of Union Plumbers & Pipefitters (UA) are the best trained and most highly skilled craftspeople in the world — and that's because of our rigorous training standards and the robust investments we make each year in our Registered Apprenticeship program," said UA General President Mark McManus. "This reauthorization of the National Apprenticeship Act ensures Registered Apprenticeships can reach new industries and that exploitative contractors cannot cut corners. Our members can rest assured that UA apprenticeships will remain the gold standard in the construction industry with the passage of this bill."

One of the lead sponsors of the bill was Congresswoman Jahana Hayes who was a member of the Connecticut AFT before being elected to Congress. She pointed out that young people and people changing careers need a way to enter into new industries outside of going to college.

“After teaching high school for 15 years, I am acutely aware that a four-year degree is not the only pathway to success. Young people, workers displaced by COVID-19, and adults looking to change careers need options outside of a bachelor’s degree for all communities to have equitable access to opportunity. These options are exponentially more crucial during a sustained economic downturn in which young people, women, and underserved communities face disproportionate job loss,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “The Registered Apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and youth apprenticeship opportunities provided by the National Apprenticeship Act are proven to prepare workers for the high wage, high skill jobs of tomorrow through paid, on-the-job training and a nationally recognized credential. They will support small businesses by creating a workforce equipped with the necessary skills on day one.

The bill will now go to the Senate for a vote. A previous version of the bill that passed in the last Congress died in the Senate. Unions hope that does not happen this time now that Democrats are in charge of deciding the Senate agenda.

“We urge the Senate to quickly pass this important legislation so that President Biden can sign this bill into law and we can open more ladders of opportunity for American workers,” said North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey. “Our vast network of over 1,600 U.S. teaching centers in almost every Congressional district across the country produces the safest, most highly-skilled and productive construction craft workers through the Registered Apprenticeship system and proves the Registered model works. With this new bill, Registered Apprenticeship will not only continue strengthening economic opportunities in every community, both large and small, across our great nation but will also open pathways for more industries to expand productive and highly-skilled workforces.”

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