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The House passage of the National Apprenticeship Act (NAA) is an important down payment on the urgent need to not only modernize our national apprenticeship system but also expand equitable access to apprenticeship and work-based learning for all workers. The bill, first introduced in March by Representative Susan Davis (D-CA), invests significant new resources in expanding pre-apprenticeship, registered apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship to more workers in more industries.
The legislation authorizes funding to support the administration and expansion of apprenticeship – up to $400 million in funding in 2021 and $800 million by 2025 for grant contracts to partnerships between workforce and education stakeholders. Expanding apprenticeship programs by prioritizing investments in industry partnerships is an approach that National Skills Coalition has long championed. It’s also an approach that is consistent with the bipartisan PARTNERS Act, which was introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Drew Ferguson (R-GA), Davis (D-CA), and Brett Guthrie (R-KY). Bringing together different stakeholders – from businesses, education and training providers to human service organizations and labor – who have the knowledge and experience to help meet the needs of workers and businesses, and leverage public investments in apprenticeship, is key to building an inclusive economic recovery.
It is not enough to simply expand access to apprenticeship by supporting industry partnerships, we must also invest in pre-apprenticeship programs –which is particularly important for people of color and women who have been historically underrepresented in certain industries and apprenticeships. The NAA legislation prioritizes access to pre-apprenticeship programs, support services like affordable child care and transportation, and post-employment support like career counseling. These supports are critical to broadening the pipeline of workers with access to and success in apprenticeship programs. The investments are also consistent with the bipartisan BUILDS Act led by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Paul Mitchell (R-MI), Bonamici (D-OR), Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Jim Langevin (D-RI).
It is no secret that the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19 has been disproportionately felt by workers of color, women, immigrants, and workers with a high school degree or less. Not to mention the small businesses – including minority-owned small businesses – that have already gone under or are vulnerable to shutting down. Policymakers must ensure that investments in apprenticeship are done with an eye towards advancing racial equity in the workforce. It is encouraging that the bill calls for data sharing on apprenticeship program outcomes, including in alignment with the Department of Education, consistent with NSC recommendations. Data transparency is key to ensuring that we’re truly building an inclusive economic recovery that leaves no one behind.
The bill’s passage by the House is the latest step in the continued momentum in recent years to expand apprenticeship across the country, including increased appropriation over the past five years and commitments by both the Obama and Trump administrations to expand apprenticeships. It has been 80 years since the National Apprenticeship Act has been updated. Reauthorizing NAA is a necessary first step in a series of steps that a new Congress and Biden administration must build on to equitably expand apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and the supports that workers need to succeed in those programs.
President-elect Biden has already made expanding registered apprenticeship – both as part of an infrastructure package and as a strategy to increase access to good jobs – a high priority. National Skills Coalition is committed to working with the Biden administration and Congress to make sure there is follow through on those commitments. Workers and businesses deserve action!