Registered apprenticeships: A policy to boost local economies

As someone who spent a decade in economic development, I worked directly with businesses in the region I now represent and those looking to invest there. I learned that one of the most important factors that businesses consider in deciding where to locate is the quality of the local workforce. That’s true from region to region, state to state, and country to country.

Some states are aware of this fact, but as a nation, we face a very real skills gap. In fact, by 2022 the United States is on track to be short 11 million workers who have some form of postsecondary education. That has consequences for businesses looking for workers and for folks that need services. We require everything from mechanics who can work on advanced planes to caregivers who can aid a growing population of seniors.

With that in mind, I was pleased that recently Congress set aside partisan politics and came together to overwhelmingly pass the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Once the president signs it into law we will finally have a workforce policy that better reflects the needs of a 21st century workforce. Without question, the long-awaited reauthorization of our workforce investment programs is a win-win for employers and employees. 

WIOA promotes best practices in workforce development and the expansion of unique models that boost state and local economies. Since Congress last passed the Workforce Investment Act more than a decade ago, Washington state has adopted innovative ways to strengthen our workforce training programs, getting workers the skills they need to stay competitive for years to come.

One such approach of note is the Advanced Home Care Aide Registered Apprenticeship program. It’s the nation’s first U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship program for home care workers. 

Developed through the SEIU Healthcare NW Training Partnership, this “earn while you learn” model is industry-driven and designed to meet the growing demands of our aging population. 

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to see this program firsthand, spending a day walking in the shoes of a home care worker named Judy.  Her client, David, had suffered severe burns over his entire body several years earlier.

I sat with Judy as she helped David do his exercises to keep his scarred body from stiffening up.  I joined her as she rubbed ointment on his skin to keep it from cracking and bleeding.  I worked with her as she cleaned his linens to help him avoid infection and as she cooked his meal to ensure that he was getting the nutrition he needed to stay strong.

After just one day walking in Judy’s shoes I was struck by how exhausting and difficult the job was, how important it was for Judy to be able to do the right things in the right way for David, and how important it is to ensure that home care workers like Judy could get the training – and compensation – that they deserve and their clients need.

Helping workers like Judy get proper training and working their way up a wage ladder is a smart investment as we seek to recruit, prepare, and retain folks in this critical field.

Already the nation’s largest organization for home care workforce training and development, the Training Partnership is scaling up to meet this challenge on a national level. Over the next five years, the organization is planning to expand the number of home care apprentices it trains to more than 3,000 annually, with a national reach.

After these workers finish their apprenticeship program, they are assured a pay increase for the additional training and certificate of completion from the Department of Labor. Furthermore, the apprenticeship programs can count toward a student’s progress in allied health programs at a number of community colleges. 

The White House recognizes the importance of apprenticeship programs. On Monday, it hosted an apprenticeship summit highlighting the contributions of programs like the Training Partnership toward filling our skills gap.

With WIOA now headed to the president’s desk, Congress should work with the administration to find ways to expand registered apprenticeships like the Advanced Home Care Aide Registered Apprenticeship program.

Nearly everyone agrees that we must do a better job of training tomorrow’s workforce for the demands of our 21st century economy – that includes caring for our aging population. With WIOA’s passage and examples like the Training Partnership, I’m confident we can meet the needs of employers, workers, and our seniors.

Kilmer has represented Washingon's 6th Congressional District since 2013. he sits on the Armed Services and the Science, Space and Technology committees.

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