Policy to Propel Apprenticeships Forward

Blog Post
April 13, 2021

As Congress contemplates what comes next for federal apprenticeship policy, the educators and administrators who support apprentices on a daily basis have wisdom to share. No one knows better than these leaders and the apprentices they serve what is needed from federal policy moving forward to improve quality and expand apprenticeship opportunities in their communities.

On January 25, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which easily passed on February 5. Apprenticeship opportunities have grown by leaps and bounds since then, expanding in number and into a wide variety of new occupations. Folks today are using apprenticeships to train for plenty of occupations that didn’t exist using technology that didn’t exist in 1937, so it’s high time for an update.

On March 1, we convened fifteen college-connected apprenticeship leaders about policies that would support their work moving out of the pandemic and beyond. While the NAA is being discussed in committee in the Senate, we want to share what these apprenticeship leaders said they need and how their needs square with what’s in the National Apprenticeship Act.

Here are a few ideas that surfaced in our conversation:

  1. Improved data infrastructure: Data collection for apprenticeship programs is resource- and time-intensive on a good day. When colleges have reporting requirements from multiple, braided federal sources, collecting and reporting required data can be overwhelming. The National Apprenticeship Act provides for both streamlined data collection from state agencies and federal grantees. Resources to handle data better so colleges/employers can handle recruiting and support of apprentices is key. Of course grantees need to share relevant data with the federal government, but those data can help colleges, employers, and intermediaries improve the quality and expanse of their apprenticeship programs. The NAA provides for two-way reporting, not just a one-way stream of data from grantees to the Department of Labor. When these data are collated and analyzed by DOL, findings can help practitioners adjust and improve their apprenticeship programs to better serve their communities. Based on what we heard in the convening, that sounds like a welcome change for practitioners.
  2. Competency-based apprenticeship support: The pandemic has encouraged some colleges and employers to pursue more competency-based apprenticeship models. This shift could alleviate some of the pandemic-induced downward pressure on capacity through limiting OJT to what students need, not how many hours they clock. While some resources exist to help practitioners build and scale these programs, the process is not easy. The NAA includes a provision for developing an “Apprenticeship College Council,” which would include making a hub of useful resources like competency-based curricula and prior-learning assessments publicly available online. New America’s earlier research on college-connected apprenticeships likewise found that colleges frequently struggle to integrate apprenticeships with degree pathways and facilitate acceleration strategies, such as credit for prior learning in a consistent way. Learning from and using existing programs’ successful strategies around competency-based, college-connected apprenticeships has great potential to speed the successful expansion of such programs and the integration of postsecondary credentials and apprenticeship.
  3. Access to best practices in apprenticeship: One convening attendee raised the need to know what strategies peer colleges and intermediaries are successfully using to improve quality and opportunity in their apprenticeship programs. Having a shared repository of information about the growing expanse of apprenticeships and the innovations that new programs, especially those integrated with degree pathways, bring to the table would be a boon for our national apprenticeship system. The National Apprenticeship Act includes a provision for just that. As part of a proposed interagency agreement between the Departments of Labor and Education, the NAA calls for a curated hub of resources laying out best practices in apprenticeship.

Employer partners, community colleges, and others have shown remarkable resiliency in the face of the pandemic. Their collective commitment to support apprentices has inspired creative approaches to achieving learning objectives and keeping apprentices employed since COVID first hit. With the structures and resources in the new National Apprenticeship Act, practitioners like those who joined our convening would have much to look forward to if the Act becomes law.

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates on what’s new in Education Policy!

Related Topics
Youth Apprenticeship Apprenticeship Apprenticeship