Senators introduce EARNS Act to expand apprenticeship programs

By Katie Spiker, May 18, 2016

On May 18th, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Effective Apprenticeships to Rebuild National Skills (EARNS) Act to expand apprenticeship in the U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Al Franken (D-MN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) co-sponsored the legislation. 

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The bill represents an important investment in expanding apprenticeship in this country. Apprenticeship pairs on-the-job training with classroom instruction, and it’s one of the best ways to prepare workers to participate in the workforce, and to train loyal, skilled employees so businesses compete in today’s economy. The bill would promote apprenticeship and expand programs to reach more workers;  increase awareness among students, parents, workers, and employers about the value of apprenticeship; and, it would align the apprenticeship system so business, labor, postsecondary education, and workforce development could coordinate to increase the number of highly skilled workers in in-demand industries and occupations.

Specifically, the EARNS act would authorize $100 million in federal funding to increase access to apprenticeship across the country, with the following provisions:

  1. Increase opportunities for Apprenticeship and Pre-apprenticeship programming: Authorize $75m in funding for expanding access to pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. This funding would be divided into a number of key priorities and is intended to be flexible enough for the Department of Labor (DOL) to have the ability to use the funding for each of the following activities at varying levels as apprenticeships become more established across the country. 
    • Establishment of the Office of Apprenticeship: The EARNS Act codifies the Office of Apprenticeship within the DOL and for the first time establishes a set of statutory responsibilities for the office, including regulating apprenticeship standards, promoting awareness and quality of pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship, promoting greater diversity in both apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship, providing technical assistance to sponsors of registered apprenticeship programs or those who are interested in starting programs, and coordinating with other workforce and education program activities like those required under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
    • Competitive Grants for Pre-Apprenticeship programs: the EARNS Act would create a competitive grant process to provide partnerships between education providers (including Career and Technical Education (CTE) providers and community colleges), state apprenticeship agencies (SAA), employers or industry associations, and a state or local workforce development board with resources to operate pre-apprenticeship programs. Labor and community based organizations are also required partners, “to the extent possible.” This funding could be used to cover training costs, curriculum development, assessment and enrollment of participants, instructor training, stipends for participants, and coordination of activities with apprenticeship programs and to improve alignment with CTE and workforce development board programming. 
    • Registered Apprenticeship Awareness: the EARNS Act would also require the Departments of Labor, Education, and Commerce to work together to disseminate information on apprenticeship to employers, educators, students, workers, workforce development experts, and state and local officials.
    • Institutionalize the Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship (ACA): Also existing within DOL, the EARNS act would institutionalize the ACA as an advisory board – comprised of employers, labor management partnerships and other stakeholders – to inform efforts to expand apprenticeship. The ACA will be responsible for working with the Office of Apprenticeship to improve the apprenticeship system and registration process and disseminate best practices for engaging underrepresented workers and youth with the apprenticeship system.  
    • Evaluate Effectiveness of Apprenticeship System: the EARNS act would require DOL to engage an outside entity to evaluate the effectiveness of apprenticeship programs and the success DOL has had in meeting the goals of each of the provisions in the bill, including increasing employment, the number of workers attaining postsecondary credentials, the return on investment of all funding mechanisms, and longitudinal outcomes for participants.
    • Funds to States: The EARNS act would require at least 10% of this authorized $75 million be reserved to go to states to help support the activities listed above. 


  2. Expanding Linkages with Postsecondary Education: Authorize $5m in funding to ensure connections between registered apprenticeship and postsecondary education. This funding will be used to institutionalize the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, a current initiative of DOL and the Department of Education to align credit attainment at colleges with credential attainment under registered apprenticeship.
  3. Subsidies to Sponsors: Authorize $20m, annually, in subsidies of up to $25,000 to sponsors developing new or expanded apprenticeship programs. This funding will be directed from DOL through workforce development boards to sponsors.

This bill builds on $90m of appropriated funds in Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016). DOL will use $60m of this FY2016 funding to increase state level capacity and innovation for delivering apprenticeship, including $9.5m for Accelerator Grants for state planning. $30m of the funding will be dedicated to increasing diversity, partnerships and awareness of apprenticeship through a series of contracts estimated to be awarded in the summer of 2016. 

NSC has endorsed the EARNS Act and looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to further expand apprenticeship opportunities across the country.