Interest in apprentices and apprenticeship programs has proliferated among legislatures in recent years. In 2020 alone, state lawmakers enacted at least 494 pieces of legislation relating to apprentices and apprenticeship programs. While most enacted bills include appropriations and tax incentives for apprenticeship programs, lawmakers also focused on making apprenticeship programs more inclusive.
New Jersey led the way in state inclusive apprenticeship efforts, enacting a suite of bills aimed at increasing workforce development opportunities for people with disabilities. SB 3064 establishes a task force within the State Employment and Training Commission to develop industry-specific recommendations for diversifying apprenticeship programs in the state. The bill stipulates that diversity efforts must be based on state demographics and data on historically underrepresented populations, including people with disabilities. Separately, the state also sought to eliminate barriers to apprenticeship programs for certain participants who disproportionately experience them by creating the Apprentice Assistance and Support Services Pilot Program. SB 3067 offers stipends to offset transportation and childcare costs for apprentices. The bill grants stipend priority to workers who are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs, including people with disabilities.
California took similar steps to address apprenticeship inclusion in 2019. California’s existing Interagency Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship advises the state’s Administrator of Apprenticeship and Chief of the Division of Apprenticeship Standards on major aspects of apprenticeship programs in nonbuilding trades industries. This includes standards, agreements, pre-apprenticeship, certification, and on-the-job training and retraining programs. The passage of AB 1019 modifies committee membership to include both the state’s Director of Rehabilitation and executive director of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. The legislation also tasks the existing committee with creating a separate subcommittee to address apprenticeship opportunities for people with disabilities, and strategies for encouraging greater participation in apprenticeship programs for traditionally underrepresented segments of the labor force.
Federal efforts also support the creation and expansion of apprenticeship programs. In 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), helping workers access employment, education, training, and support services for success in the labor market. WIOA increases coordination between state and federal workforce development agencies and offers funding to states for workforce development activities including support for registered apprenticeships.
WIOA also outlines population specific goals for workers facing unique barriers to employment, including low-income workers, veterans, racial minorities, and people with disabilities. For these workers, WIOA increases access to quality workforce services, preparing them for competitive integrated employment. Under WIOA:
- American Job Centers provide physical and programmatic accessibility to employment and training services for individuals with disabilities.
- State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies set aside at least 15% of their federal award to provide preemployment transition services to students with disabilities.
- Students with disabilities receive preemployment transition services to successfully obtain competitive integrated employment.
- A committee advises the Secretary of Labor on strategies to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities.
- All state workforce development agencies engage employers to improve participant employment outcomes.
To further inclusion efforts, in 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) launched the Apprenticeship Inclusion Model (AIM) initiative. A two-year, joint effort supported by ODEP, Social Policy Research Associates (SPR), Wheelhouse Group (Wheelhouse), and Jobs for the Future (JFF), the AIM initiative worked with four selected sites to enhance practices and innovative supports, and expand pathways for people with disabilities into high-demand, well-paying careers. Amazon, Microsoft, the Healthcare Career Advancement Program (H-CAP), and the Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship Program (IMT) participated in the initiative, running four apprenticeship pilot programs across 16 localities. Final findings from the AIM initiative include:
- IMT: Served 24 manufacturing pre-apprentices, ranging from 19 to 58 years old. One participant identified as having a disability while another was a veteran. Wage rates ranged from $15-25.95 per hour.
- H-CAP: Served 39 participants between H-CAP’s Philadelphia and New York training fund sites. Disability status and wages not reported.
- Apprenti: Amazon and Microsoft hosted a total of 448 apprentices at the AIM pilot sites. Just over 70% of participants were veterans, and approximately 12% self-identified as people with a disability. Of those who completed the program, 96% secured careers in the technology sector with an average post-program salary of $66,000.
In 2021, ODEP launched a new initiative, the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA). In collaboration with employers and apprenticeship intermediary organizations (AIOs), PIA designs inclusive apprenticeship programs that match employer needs while providing people with disabilities valuable credentials for success in high growth industries. PIA employer assistance includes:
- Providing resources, knowledge, and experience to support apprentices with disabilities.
- Working with AIOs to source diverse candidates.
- Understanding the accessibility needs of apprentices with disabilities.
- Purchasing accessible technology to support the success of all apprentices and employees, including those with disabilities.