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Apprenticeships No Longer Just for "Blue Collar" Employment

Apprenticeships No Longer Just for "Blue Collar" Employment
Susan Dutca-Lovell

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing to expand and advance the development of high-quality apprenticeship programs, run by business groups, colleges and other entities. The Department of Labor also announced awards totaling $183.8 million in Scaling Apprenticeship Through Sector-Based Strategies grants. The "earn while you learn" model will enable individuals to acquire skills without accruing any student debt, in "white-collar" industries that historically have not focused much on apprenticeships.

Since January 2017, over 500,000 people entered apprenticeships programs registered with the Department of Labor or its state counterparts. Only a few industries, such as the building trades and military, have historically utilized the registered apprenticeship model. The Trump administration is now proposing a second apprenticeship model, The Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship, which would complement and coincide with the successful and existing core occupation/vocational, federally recognized apprenticeship programs such carpentry, pipe-fitting, and plumbing.

Despite a current, thriving job market, there remains 7.4 million open jobs with more openings than job seekers. Businesses looking to fill these positions are searching for ways to empower its workforce with the in-demand skills the employers need. For many white-collar firms, that means targeting two-year students and other candidates without bachelor's degrees. The savings that result from lower wages can be used towards apprenticeship programs that pay for degrees or other useful credentials, helping close the "skills gap purportedly caused by colleges' failure to equip graduates with job-ready skills" and allowing individuals to climb the career ladder. Chicago is "at the forefront of a small but growing movement that is changing how some students enter white-collar jobs," according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Local community and technical colleges such as Harper College and the City Colleges of Chicago have funneled students into consulting and finance firms like Accenture and Aon.

The Department of Labor will award $183 million in grants to educational institutions to "develop and expand apprenticeships through partnerships with companies that provide matching funds," in sectors where apprenticeships are lacking or nonexistent, such as technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing. The IRAPs will be funded through H-1B visas, rather than by the federal government. The grants will be allocated to 23 qualifying educational entities, making the path towards the middle class increasingly available through apprenticeship programs and not solely via four-year college degrees.

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