How Biden Can Get Americans Back to Work Better

Americans, especially young adults, need more pathways to careers that don’t require a traditional four-year college degree.

Photo via Flickr

by Veronica Goodman

President Biden’s upcoming address to Congress is an opportunity to speak directly to the more than 10 million Americans who find themselves out of a job because of the pandemic recession. On the question of how to help these workers, Biden need look no further than the Build Back Better platform he campaigned on. A key element of the BBB platform is a $50 billion investment in workforce development, including apprenticeships.

Americans, especially young adults, need more pathways to careers that don’t require a traditional four-year college degree. While Millennials are the most educated generation in history, as of 2015, only about a third of Americans ages 25 to 34 were college graduates. That number is even lower for older Americans. Most people don’t go to college, and apprenticeships are an underappreciated way for finding jobs for the millions of job seekers who will have to find work after the pandemic, including those whose pre-Covid jobs might never come back. Compared to other high-income countries, the U.S. lags significantly when it comes to apprenticeships and other “active labor market” policies and it’s time for us to make investments to fill this gap.

Recently, the White House announced several ways that the Biden administration is strengthening registered apprenticeships across the country.

President Biden has endorsed Congressman Bobby Scott’s bipartisan National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which will “create and expand registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs.” This legislation had been passed in the House in November 2020, in the last Congress, but the Republican Senate Majority failed to take up the bill for a vote. With Democrats now in the majority, there is renewed hope that the country’s underfunded and outdated apprenticeship system can finally be modernized to meet our 21st-century workforce needs. The reauthorization of the National Apprenticeship Act is estimated to create nearly one million high-quality apprenticeship opportunities and includes provisions that target opportunities for key groups, such as young adults, childcare workers, and veterans. The bill also aims to increase apprenticeships in industries that do not require a four-year degree for well-paid jobs, such as healthcare, IT, and financial services. We’ve supported this bipartisan legislation in the past and we look forward to seeing it make its way through Congress.

Additionally, the White House has reversed a harmful Trump-era policy by rescinding the industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs), which threatened to undermine registered apprenticeship programs across the country and weakened employer-protections for trainees.

These are important steps, but the White House and Congress should go even further to modernize the current apprenticeship system. First, they should formalize and incentivize intermediaries (public or private) who create “outsourced” apprenticeships programs that get paid for each placement when they hire candidates who meet certain criteria (such as eligibility for Pell grants), provide them with an apprenticeship that pays minimum wage or better, train them, and place them in permanent positions. Second, they should create relationships with high schools to set up apprenticeships and career and technical education programs that begin in the 11th or 12th grade and pair students with local employers. These have shown promise in other high-income countries that employ a high percentage of their younger workers through apprenticeships. And, lastly, they should create public service apprenticeship opportunities and programs at all levels of government, including in industries such as information technology, accounting, and healthcare.

As President Biden crafts his address to Congress in the coming weeks, we hope that he acknowledges that millions of Americans who are out of a job lack a college degree. For them, other pathways to jobs, such as through investing in apprenticeships, will be a critical step forward in regaining their economic footing.

Radically Pragmatic. We seek to advance progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth, and wider opportunity.

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