For apprenticeship programs to thrive — get employers back to the table
This year’s National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect time to take stock of our country’s workforce development systems. With more than 10 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. and more than six million unemployed individuals, it’s obvious that our current systems need a lot of work. To make matters worse, an enormous skills gap is hampering our country’s economic growth, and America’s federal workforce development systems are doing little to address the problem effectively.
These systems are not meeting the needs of workers because of Democrats’ misguided approach towards apprenticeships.
Workforce development programs, including apprenticeships, must have employer input. Yet at every turn, Democrats are working to limit the voices of job creators and amplify those of Big Labor. During our markup of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Democrats attempted to twist the law and hand union bosses an outsized role on local workforce boards. Currently, these boards are primarily made up of business owners, and that’s how it should stay.
Decreasing the influence of employers in workforce development programs puts workers and job creators in jeopardy. When the Biden administration terminated Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, championed by former President Trump and congressional Republicans like me, we knew this administration had no qualms about hanging employers out to dry.
While Republicans sought to empower industries and companies to develop their own systems for upskilling or reskilling workers, Democrats are propping up an 80-year-old system mired in red tape.
The Registered Apprenticeship program is as outdated as it gets. Remember when the average cost of a new house was $3,770, the average yearly wage was $1,880, the average rent was $35 a month, and gas only cost 14 cents a gallon? Neither do I, but that’s the last time this law was significantly updated. Why are we relying on a system that hasn’t been reformed in eight decades when we could be relying on America’s best and brightest business owners to lead the way?
As it stands, our federal workforce programs are so burdensome that most employers won’t touch them. Most employers simply don’t have the bandwidth to wrestle with all of the red tape and bureaucracy that comes with Registered Apprenticeships and programs in WIOA.
Instead, more businesses are opting to build their own workforce development pipeline or earn-and-learn program rather than spending time and money jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
Supporting free market solutions is the surest way to get innovative programs that work.
Kentucky FAME, for instance, is a program that streamlines the path from a skills education to a skills profession. This highly successful statewide apprenticeship program relies on industry leaders to develop innovative skills-based education. Programs like this are results-oriented and get the job done.
If Democrats want apprenticeship programs to thrive, they must listen to employers. Our country does not need more top-down programs built on bureaucracy instead of the expertise of industry leaders. The future of America’s workforce development programs will be forged by employers and industry leaders—let’s give them a seat back at the table.
Virginia Foxx represents North Carolina’s 5th District and is the Republican leader of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
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