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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on Oct. 21 announced it was awarding more than $50 million in grants for apprenticeships in 36 states.
"These grants will help us push forward our efforts to grow and modernize our apprenticeship system—encouraging adoption in new industries and expanding access to apprenticeships for minority groups previously underrepresented in apprenticeship programs," said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in an Oct. 21 blog.
He pointed to the states of Wisconsin and Washington as examples. Wisconsin plans to use its $1.5 million grant to create apprenticeships in industries such as construction, financial services and biotechnology, he said. Washington will invest its $2.7 million award to expand registered apprenticeships for underrepresented groups such as women, people with disabilities and people from minority groups.
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News of the grants follows an Oct. 6 announcement from the DOL's Bureau of International Labor Affairs that it was awarding $1.4 million over two years to the Global Apprenticeships Network (GAN) to support apprenticeships worldwide.
GAN is a coalition of companies, employer federations, associations and international organizations working to promote quality apprenticeships and work-readiness programs around the world. Its summit in October drew people from across the globe to discuss the benefits of apprenticeships for employers and youth and was preceded by a meeting at the White House.
The Obama administration has been promoting apprenticeships over the last several years as a way to bridge the so-called skills gap.
In April 2014, DOL gave $1.8 million in grants through its Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations program to help remove barriers from women entering fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation, energy, construction and information technology, SHRM Online reported at the time.
Since 2014, the U.S. has added more than 125,000 new apprenticeships, Perez said, calling it the largest increase in nearly a decade. Additionally, more than 275 colleges offer academic credit to apprentices, and 14 states have adopted initiatives that have expanded the "earn and learn" model.
Beyond the Skilled Trades
Apprenticeships traditionally have been associated with the skilled trades, and labor unions have excelled in structuring programs that are "sensitive to conditions in the local labor market and [that have] the ability to modify [training] to meet those conditions," said Dan Marschall, legislative and policy specialist for workforce issues and director of the Working for America Institute of the AFL-CIO.
However, apprenticeship programs have also expanded into other fields. In 2015, the DOL awarded $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants to organizations to help train and hire more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth, high-tech industries such as health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing over the next five years.
In July 2015, the U.S. and Switzerland signed a Joint Declaration of Intent to collaborate on creating a U.S. apprenticeship program based on the Swiss vocational education model, SHRM Online reported. That model includes an expansive range of occupations, including advanced manufacturing, the health care fields and information technology, as well as traditional trades and crafts.
At the GAN summit, Adecco Group North America pledged to facilitate 10,000 work-based learning opportunities in the U.S.—with an emphasis on apprenticeships—by 2020.
"Adecco Group North America has seen firsthand how work-based learning can be a solution to current and future workforce needs," said Bob Crouch, CEO of Adecco Group North America, in a news release.
National Apprenticeship Week begins Nov. 14.
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