1013viewpointReopening The Gates To Apprenticeship Opportunities

About five years ago, in the weeks following the historic election of President Barack Obama, the Federal Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship (ACA) developed a briefing paper entitled “The Future of National Registered Apprenticeship System: A Workforce Strategy for Main Street America.” The ACA proposed a $1 billion annual investment to support the expansion of the National Registered Apprenticeship System. The ACA’s goal was to expand the apprenticeship model by up to one million apprentices each year. At that time, the briefing paper reported that we had over 468,000 active apprentices in the United States. Unfortunately, neither of those recommendations has been enacted. 

At the close of fiscal year 2012, our total number of apprentices—nationwidehad fallen to 358,000. Over an approximate four-year period, we had lost 110,000 apprentices! Admittedly, these have been very difficult times for many of our industries and our nation. It should be noted, however, that many of the trends on this workforce data began well before the Great Recession of 2008.

In my opinion, much of the problem stems from the inability of our National Registered Apprenticeship System, as presently structured, to meet the needs of the construction and maintenance sectors. This is largely due to the fact that during periods of economic downturn, the apprenticeship gates close and apprenticeship openings vanish. In the years leading up to 2008, magazines like Maintenance Technology warned of the “perfect storm” that was gathering as projections for demand of skilled workers far exceeded the anticipated supply. The Great Recession of 2008 (and its lingering effects) only postponed, 
to some degree, the full onslaught of that storm. Today, we once again find ourselves facing an imminent shortage. 

I believe there are three important steps that we can take—immediately—to mitigate the damage that has occurred over the past five years. First, the federal investment in Registered Apprenticeship must increase significantly. In 2008, that investment was only $23 million. I would suspect that five years later, in the age of “sequestration,” it remains under $30 million. Our National Registered Apprenticeship System is simply not sustainable with such a limited investment.

Second, the principal reason the federal government can get away with a $30 million investment in apprenticeship is because private industry invests over $2 billion in education and training each year from apprenticeship-program sponsors. We need to provide incentives to program sponsors and employers that hire apprentices to increase the total number of apprenticeship opportunities. 

Third, we need a comprehensive workforce development strategy for industry. Currently, we operate in silos with community colleges, union training programs (like mine at the NJATC), Workforce Investment Boards and employers—all going in different directions. Our challenge is large enough that each of these entities can play an important role in helping grow the pool of skilled workers. We need to get everyone on the same page, committed and driven to meeting the needs of our customers and our ever-changing industries. MT 

The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) for the Electrical Industry is the training arm of the IBEW and NECA. It oversees 300 program sponsors and 40,000 apprentices in the electrical industry. In addition to serving as NJATC’s Executive Director, Mic Callanan is a member of the Federal ACA.         

The opinions expressed in this Viewpoint section are those of the author,
and don’t necessarily reflect those of the staff and management of Maintenance Technology magazine.