How I Know Apprenticeship Works

Secretary Perez hosts a roundtable on apprenticeship at Cuyahoga Community College.

Secretary Perez hosts a roundtable on apprenticeship at Cuyahoga Community College.

Our country is in the middle of a fundamental transformation in how we help people get the skills they need to succeed in jobs of the 21st century. I like to call this our “Eisenhower moment.” Sixty years ago, in building the interstate highway system, President Eisenhower made a powerful investment in our physical infrastructure that continues to pay huge economic dividends. Today, we’re making a similar infrastructure investment – we’re building a skills superhighway.

Apprenticeship is a critical on-ramp to that superhighway. It’s a proven path for workers into the middle class and an effective strategy for businesses to train for the skills they need. To support and encourage apprenticeship programs, President Obama has proclaimed this week – Nov. 1-7 – as National Apprenticeship Week.

I was thrilled to kick things off in Cleveland on Monday, starting with a visit to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. They’re partnering with Cuyahoga Community College to recruit and retain a new generation of workers, and are expanding their programs thanks to an American Apprenticeship grant – part of the largest federal investment in apprenticeship ever.

The apprentices I met were repair workers, electro-mechanical technicians, transit coach operators and more, doing maintenance and retrofitting on 30-year-old rail cars so they can serve modern transportation needs.

For decades, the skilled trades have led the way in developing and refining apprenticeships in America, allowing generations of Americans to enjoy middle-class careers as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and more. What we want to do now is build on this foundation laid by the building trades. We want to expand apprenticeship into other high-growth industries like health care, IT and cybersecurity, fields that you don’t normally associate with apprenticeship. After the tour, I joined a roundtable at Cuyahoga Community College, where students also have the opportunity to all of these 21st-century apprenticeships.

And this morning, I stopped by the IBEW Local 26’s headquarters in Lanham, Maryland, to check out their state-of-the-art training center. About 900 apprentices are trained as inside, outside and residential wiremen, and in telecommunications. They complete a minimum of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in the electrical construction industry with the supervision of a journeyman electrician. Starting wages are $19 an hour.

Dustin, a third-year apprentice, told me that he’s had a lot of other jobs but this career path is finally clicking for him. “I learn so much more by putting my hands on something,” he said. “I like how everything builds on each other and fits together.”

Apprenticeships like these provide a clear career path forward through new skills, higher wages and opportunities for advancement. Across the nation and all industries, apprentices earn an average starting yearly salary of more than $50,000, and during their careers, they’ll earn $300,000 more on average than their non-apprentice peers.

At the same time, apprenticeship is a proven strategy for recruiting, training, and retaining a highly skilled and diverse workforce. International studies show that for every $1 invested in apprenticeship, employers get $1.47 back in benefits, and 97 percent of businesses with apprenticeship programs would recommend apprenticeship to other companies.

Since President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, when he challenged employers and educators to double the number of apprenticeships by 2019, the U.S. has had the largest growth in apprenticeships in nearly a decade. We are already making substantial progress toward that goal. But we want to double and diversify, making sure that apprenticeship opportunities are available to women, to communities of color, to underserved populations and others who have struggled to navigate or access the skills superhighway.

The evidence is clear: apprenticeship works. That’s why we’re shining a light on this movement and why we want you to get involved. This week, we rededicate ourselves to building the skills superhighway through apprenticeship and making the American Dream a reality for more hardworking people.

Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter and Instagram as @LaborSec. 

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