Op-Ed: Young Workers & Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life, Apprenticeship Crucial


This week, two op-ed’s from two regions of the United States discuss the importance of apprenticeship programs to two groups of Americans: youth and veterans.

In The Daytona Daily News, professor Rick Sheridan touts apprenticeship programs arguing that they offer a vital alternative to college for those seeking a middle class lifestyle.  Sheridan notes that while the average college student will graduate with $30,000 in debt, the average apprentice will earn solid wages while learning a craft debt-free.  Globally, America is lagging in the apprenticeship department with respect to young people. 

From Sheridan’s piece:

In Switzerland, almost 70 percent of young people age 15-19 apprentice in hundreds of occupations, including health care, financial services, retail trade and clerical occupations. In Germany, 65 percent of youth are in apprenticeships; in Austria 55 percent. All three countries have youth unemployment rates less than half of of what we have in the United States, according to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article.

The number of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. fell 30 percent in the last decade, but fortunately the situation may be improving. The Obama administration is trying to double the number of apprenticeships over the next five years. Last December, the Department of Labor announced up to $100 million in grants to expand specific apprenticeship programs in growth areas such as computer programming, health care, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing. They have also set up a Registered Apprenticeship program to encourage employers to set-up a program that can be evaluated for success or failure.

According to the Department of Labor, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage for apprenticeship graduates is over $50,000. The Obama administration is also proposing more flexible student loans that can be used to cover the expense of participating in an apprenticeship. Additional aid is available from some private manufacturers who are eager to find apprentices.

Sheridan provides background on the apprenticeship programs in his state of Ohio:

Ohio has 917 registered apprenticeship sponsors in fields as diverse as aerospace, construction, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, and utilities, according to the Ohio State Apprenticeship Council. Each program includes a minimum of 2,000 hours of structured on-the-job training and 144 hours per year of related technical instruction. All apprenticeships are paid. “The average starting rate of an registered apprentice in Ohio is $12.90, and the average completion rate is $25.97,” said Patrick Reardon, Executive Administrator for Ohio State Apprenticeship Council.

Sheridan omits the fact that construction unions are arguably the largest investors in young workers, with programs collectively the size of the 6th largest school district in the country or the fourth largest university.

Unions also actively support the Helmets to Hardhats program, which matches returning military veterans with apprenticeships to help them begin careers in the trades.  While the transition to civilian life can be difficult, a clear path to a middle class life often eases the transition.  

Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally, herself a 26-year Air Force veteran, discusses this very topic in a Sierra Vista Herald op-ed. She describes the difficulties returning veterans face and the responsibility the government has to provide them new opportunities.  McSally promotes her newly introduced apprenticeship bill:

Ensuring veterans have access to the care they need is one, critical part of making good on our promise to them. Another is providing them and their families the economic opportunity they deserve. To that end, I’ve introduced two bills to help veterans find jobs in the civilian workforce after their service.‎

The Veterans’ Entry to Apprenticeship Act would enable veterans to use their GIbenefits for approved pre-apprenticeship programs, something they cannot do now. With high demand currently for workers with high-tech and trade skills, this commonsense bill would help veterans use the benefits they earned to obtain these skills.‎

I also introduced the Border Jobs for Veterans Act, legislation to require cooperation between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to ensure separating service members are aware of hiring opportunities for Customs and Border Protection positions.‎

Read her entire piece here.

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