With lawmakers from both parties eager to help get idled Americans back to work, a bipartisan group has unveiled a bill that would put up almost $3.5 billion to create nearly 1 million new internships over the next five years, many of them for young people.
The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which would reauthorize an existing program, would encourage employers from in-demand sectors and occupations to take on apprentices and streamline access to the pipeline.
Just a tiny sliver of Americans have ever completed a registered apprenticeship, but according to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 90% of those who do, are hired at an average starting yearly wage of about $70,000.
Advocates say the proposal’s “historic” investments in workforce training would more than pay for itself by increasing tax revenues by $10.6 billion from higher worker pay and productivity and reducing the demand for public assistance programs and unemployment benefits.
“Registered apprenticeships remain one of our most successful tools for connecting workers with in-demand skills and good-paying jobs,” Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, Democratic chairman of the House labor committee, said in a news release. The bill would create a million new apprenticeships, he said, including many slated for young people.
Last year, the bill stalled in the Republican Senate, but Democrats now control the Senate agenda, if barely. The Trump administration was a champion for increased investment in apprenticeships, and routinely proposed a bump in the appropriations for them. Federal spending on apprenticeships rose from $68 million in 2017 to about $175 million by fiscal 2020.
“I look forward to once again passing this legislation through the House and I hope the Senate will act quickly to get this bill on the president’s desk,” Scott said, calling it “an important part of our renewed effort to help workers get back on their feet and build back a better economy.”
Although the news release from the House labor committee said the proposal comes amid “record unemployment,” that’s not what the official numbers say. Employment crashed last spring when the pandemic took hold but has recovered in subsequent months. Nevertheless, the December jobless rate of 6.7% translates to 10.7 million people, almost 5 million more than February.
The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 defines states’ responsibilities in setting up and running the program with annual federal funding and requires the federal departments of Education and Labor to support the creation and expansion of youth apprenticeships, college consortiums and data sharing.
The bill is also led by Democratic Reps. Donald Norcross of New Jersey (D) and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon as well as Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, David McKinley of West Virginia and Don Bacon of Nebraska.