Washington State Program Could Be Model for Trump Apprenticeship Push

[Updated 6/13/17, 10:25 pm PT. See below.President Trump, once the star of reality television show “The Apprentice,” is pushing for apprenticeships as a way to connect more people with some 6 million unfilled jobs in fields such as healthcare and information technology. A program from Washington state’s technology industry is doing just that, and planning to expand to other tech centers across the country.

Apprenti—developed over the last two years by the Washington Technology Industry Association’s Workforce Institute with federal Department of Labor grants and corporate donations—recently announced it had placed 37 people in registered apprenticeships with companies including Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), F5, Avvo, and others.

Many technology companies also have their own apprenticeship programs. LinkedIn, acquired by Microsoft, has its Reach apprenticeship program in the Bay Area. Salesforce (NYSE: CRM)—whose founder and CEO Marc Benioff, challenged Trump to create 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years—has several apprenticeship and internship programs, including partnerships with Year Up.

Several factors distinguish Apprenti from other tech apprenticeship programs: It’s a registered apprenticeship program—monitored by state and federal labor agencies—following many of the structures of traditional apprenticeships in building trades, including worker protection, benefits, minimum wage thresholds, and credentials for completion.

It was also developed in concert with the companies that employ the apprentices—a partnership model that hews closely to the Trump administration’s stated preference. Indeed, Trump Labor Secretary Alex Acosta dismissed the notion that the federal government’s $90 million 2016 annual budget for apprenticeship programs would be increased, calling instead for “private-private partnerships” among employers, trade unions, and educational institutions to grow apprenticeships. Trump’s budget proposal includes cuts in other workforce development programs.

“I want to challenge the assumption that the only way to move policy is to increase government spending,” Acosta said at a White House briefing Monday, ahead of Trump’s trip to Wisconsin today to provide more detail of how he plans to foster more apprenticeships.

“What the industry needs is a single, consistent model with the rigor of registered apprenticeship; that is what will build a sustainable workforce,” Apprenti executive director Jennifer Carlson tells Xconomy via e-mail. “That is what Apprenti delivers on behalf of the industry.” [Paragraphs added here and below with Carlson’s comments.]

In 2016, only about 0.35 percent of the 146 million jobs in the U.S. were filled by apprentices, according to Labor Department statistics reported by The Associated Press[An earlier version of this paragraph mistakenly reported 3.5 percent of jobs were filled by apprentices. We regret the error.]

Apprenti won a $7.5 million Department of Labor contract last fall to replicate its model in other markets. That funding comes from fees paid by technology companies for H-1B visas to hire skilled foreign workers, another program in the Trump administration’s crosshairs, casting some uncertainty over future federal funding for Apprenti, despite all appearances that it’s a paragon of the Trump administration’s vision for expanding apprenticeships.

Carlson has said the goal is to eventually make the program self-sustaining.

The program aims to place 250 people in apprenticeships this year and increase to 450 a year beginning in 2018. Apprenti has emphasized opportunities for women, minorities, veterans, and other groups underrepresented in the technology work force.

Part of Apprenti’s expansion plans include consulting with other established tech apprenticeship programs; training staff or managing apprenticeship programs itself; or licensing the assessment portal it developed to pre-screen would-be apprentices.

Carlson says two states beyond Washington are set to go live with Apprenti later this year, and there’s interest from many more. Apprenti “will be holding an Apprenticeship Summit in July to meet with more than a fifteen additional states interested in adopting our model,” she says.

Democrat and Republican political leaders agree on the value of providing people a pathway to work that doesn’t necessarily require a four-year degree. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, for example, recently created a task force on the topic.

“We are going to stop telling our kids that a four-year degree is the only path to success,” Inslee said in announcing the Career Connect Washington Task Force. “Through registered apprenticeships, technical training programs, and other career connected learning opportunities, we’ll give students all kinds of ways to fulfill their dreams of helping build airplanes, cure diseases, or design innovative new software.”

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