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The Federal Role

Extend Use of Current Postsecondary and Training Subsidies to Apprenticeship

In nearly all other countries, the government is responsible for the classroom-based component of apprenticeship. One approach to making this jump in the U.S. is to use existing postsecondary programs to finance or at least subsidize the classroom portion of apprenticeships. Already, localities can use training vouchers from the Workforce Investment Act for apprenticeship. To encourage greater use of vouchers for apprenticeship, the federal government could provide one to two more vouchers to Workforce Investment Boards for each training voucher used in an apprenticeship program. Another step is to encourage the use of Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) training subsidies to companies sponsoring apprenticeships just as training providers receive subsidies for TAA-eligible workers enrolled in full-time training. In addition, policies could allow partial payment of TAA's extended unemployment insurance to continue for employed individuals in registered apprenticeship programs.

Allowing the use of Pell grants to pay at least for the classroom portion of a registered apprenticeship program makes perfect sense as well. Currently, a large chunk of Pell grants pays for occupationally oriented programs at community colleges and for-profit career colleges. The returns on such investments are far lower than the returns to apprenticeship. The Department of Education already can authorize experiments under the federal student aid programs (Olinsky and Ayres 2013), allowing Pell grants for some students learning high-demand jobs as part of a certificate program. Extending the initiative to support related instruction (normally formal courses) in an apprenticeship could increase apprenticeship slots and reduce the amount the federal government would have to spend to support these individuals in full-time schooling.

The GI Bill already provides housing benefits and subsidizes wages for veterans in apprenticeships. However, funding for colleges and university expenses is far higher than for apprenticeship. Offering half the GI Bill college benefits to employers hiring veterans into an apprenticeship program could be accomplished by amending the law. However, unless the liberalized uses of Pell grants and GI Bill benefits are linked with an extensive marketing campaign, the take-up by employers is likely to be limited.

Designate Best Practice Occupational Standards for Apprenticeships

To simplify the development of apprenticeships for potential employers, a joint Office of Apprenticeship-Department of Commerce team should designate one or two examples of good practice with regard to specific areas of expertise learned at work sites and subjects learned through classroom components. The OA-Commerce team should select occupational standards in consultation with selected employers who hire workers in the occupation. Once selected, the standards should be published and made readily accessible. Employers who comply with these established standards should have a quick and easy path to registration of the program. In addition, workforce professionals trying to market apprenticeships will have a model they can sell and that employers can adopt and/or use with modest adjustments. Occupational standards used in other countries can serve as starting points to the Labor-Commerce team and to industry groups involved in setting standards and in illustrating curricula.

Develop a Solid Infrastructure of Information, Peer Support, and Research

The federal government should sponsor the development of an information clearinghouse, a peer support network, and a research program on apprenticeship. The information clearinghouse should document the occupations that currently use apprenticeships not only in the U.S. but also in other countries along with the list of occupation skills that the apprentices master. It should include the curricula for classroom instruction as well as the skills that apprentices should learn and master at the workplace. Included in the clearinghouse should be up-to-date information on available apprenticeships and applicants looking for apprenticeships. The development of the information hub should involve agencies within the Department of Commerce as well as the OA.

The research program should cover topics especially relevant to employers, such as the return to apprenticeship from the employer perspective and the net cost of sponsoring an apprentice after taking account of the apprentice's contribution to production. Other research should examine best practices for marketing apprenticeship, incorporating classroom and work-based learning by sector, and counseling potential apprentices.

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