LEARNS Act Would Strengthen Apprenticeship Programs as Valuable Pipelines to Middle Class

By Cathalijne Adams
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Stronger apprenticeship programs support the middle class and the economy.

As mired as America currently is in safeguarding its domestic manufacturing through trade negotiations, it’s easy to lose sight of another critical component of a thriving manufacturing base — workforce development.

Technology continues to infuse the factory of the future, making apprenticeships are more important than ever. Indeed, 45% of all jobs over the next decade are expected to require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.

To meet this challenge, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced the Leveraging Effective Apprenticeships to Rebuild National Skills (LEARNS) Act on Oct. 31. The bill, if enacted, would support America’s registered apprenticeship programs nationwide and, thereby, ensure a steady influx of workers in skilled trades.

The LEARNS Act would create national standards for registered apprenticeship programs; support further alignment between the programs, employers, schools and sponsors; and establish a permanent advisory council within the Department of Labor for oversight.

“The LEARNS Act is an investment in the economic power of millions of people across the country–ensuring everyone has the tools and resources they need to secure living wages and quality jobs,” said Pocan. “By strengthening registered apprenticeship programs and preparing workers for permanent employment, we can create a definitive link between training programs and employment, while offering employers access to the skilled workforce they need.”

Apprenticeships are uniquely valuable as a form of training in that they offer opportunities to “earn and learn,” opening pathways to higher-paying jobs without the loss of a reliable paycheck.

“The biggest economic challenge of our time is that people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to keep up with the rising costs of healthcare, child care, housing, and education,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who co-sponsored the bill. “The LEARNS Act takes this problem head on by investing to ensure more workers can get the skills and tools they need to succeed.”

Not only do workers benefit from more apprenticeship programs, so, too, do employers, who earn up to $3 for every dollar invested in a craft apprenticeship. In turn, every $1 spent in manufacturing generates $1.81 in economic activity. So, benefits abound when more people are granted access to valuable skilled trade jobs.

We applaud Pocan’s efforts to strengthen apprenticeship programs.