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Could Apprenticeships Supply the Workers So Many States Need?

Some legislatures are offering employers tax breaks and wage supports and encouraging would-be apprentices with child care and other aid.

By Kelley Griffin  |  January 22, 2024

There are plenty of reasons a state might create and support registered apprenticeships, but Joshua Johnson likes to suggest one right off the bat. 

“The first thing that you all should know is that there are millions of dollars flowing through each and every one of your states focused on registered apprenticeships,” Johnson, director of apprenticeship with Jobs for the Future, told a session at NCSL’s Base Camp 2023. “It’s a massive investment, historic investment, since 2013 in the National Apprenticeship System.” 

The Labor Department defines a registered apprenticeship as one led by industry to develop the workforce with paid on-the-job training and classroom instruction that results in nationally recognized credentials. It has long been a practice in trades involving plumbers, carpenters and electricians, but states are expanding into professions such as teaching and nursing. And many states take an active role in supporting apprenticeship programs, according to an NCSL survey.

“We are continuing to see a historically low unemployment rate. It means employers are really struggling to find that qualified talent.”

—Joshua Johnson, Jobs for the Future

“It’s an opportunity to promote a solution to labor market issues,” Johnson says. “We know that across the country, we are continuing to see a historically low unemployment rate. It means employers are really struggling to find that qualified talent.”

Johnson notes that legislators have a key role in supporting apprenticeships. They can designate federal funds to employers for tax incentives, wage support and help developing apprenticeships. They also can offer incentives to would-be apprentices who might need help obtaining tools, paying for child care or other support to get them into the trained workforce. 

In some cases, Johnson says, the legislature can remove blocks, noting that Alabama legislators were key in establishing that state’s nursing apprenticeship. First, they passed legislation allowing the nursing board to create apprentice licenses, then learned the board lacked statutory authority to create them, so they corrected that. 

Lawmakers worked “hand in hand” with the board and the federal Office of Apprenticeship to pass a bill authorizing the board to create the license, which then opened the door for the nursing registered apprenticeship program, Johnson says.

He also says legislators and staff can advocate for apprenticeships with business owners and industry leaders who might be unaware of the support available, whether through a state-run department or council, or through federal resources at the Labor Department website

Johnson says apprenticeships are especially effective at reaching populations that are underrepresented in industries. 

“I firmly believe that apprenticeship is the one workforce tool in our country that can help eradicate poverty,” he says. “(An) apprenticeship is the only workforce tool that you can start your career with zero knowledge and walk out skilled in that occupation and at the same time, you’re getting paid.”

Kelley Griffin is a senior editor at NCSL and host of the podcast “Across the Aisle.”

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