Speeches & Floor Statements

Hearing Statement: Modernizing Apprenticeships to Expand Opportunities

Posted on July 26, 2018


The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will please come to order.


Senator Murray and I will each have an opening statement, and then I will introduce the witnesses.


Then we will hear from the witnesses, and senators will each have 5 minutes to ask questions.


We are here today to explore ways to modernize apprenticeships, which are training programs that allow workers to “earn and learn” at the same time.


Let me tell you the story of two hypothetical Tennesseans who are interested in earning money while they learn job skills.


A high school senior, Jason from Nashville has decided he wants to be an electrician.


Jason might join a Middle Tennessee electrical contractor as an apprentice in a federally-registered program. He’d learn the skills he needed on the job while also receiving technical instruction in the classroom.


At the end of the apprenticeship, Jason would have a certificate that demonstrates that he has the skills to be a successful electrician, such as safely running wire, and he could use that certificate to find work in Nashville or anywhere else around the country.


Now take Samantha from Memphis. While taking classes at a local community college, she hears about an apprenticeship program started by a local insurance firm to train insurance claims handlers.


Even though it wasn’t registered with the Department of Labor, the program was designed by industry experts to help Samantha receive the skills she’d need to be successful in the insurance industry, such as analytical and investigatory skills.


Just like Jason, Samantha would be able to get the instruction and skills she needed while earning money at the same time.


For the millions of Americans who are looking for ways to improve their skills, make a good wage, and live the American Dream, high-quality apprenticeship programs- whether federally- registered or not- are a smart path forward.


The United States is in the middle of the best economy in 18 years – and in one month this year, the unemployment rate fell as low as it has been since 1969, nearly half a century ago.


And in recent months, we have seen the lowest rate of African American employment since the federal government started keeping track of unemployment in 1972.


In this booming economy, there are 6.6 million job openings, and what I hear most from Tennessee employers is that they need more skilled workers.





The shortage of skilled workers is something the Trump Administration has been actively working on, and just last week, announced an executive order aimed at training more Americans for these jobs.  


Congress is doing our part to close the skills gap as well.


On Monday, the Senate passed an update to the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act – which this committee worked on – a nearly $1.2 billion federal program of grants to states that help fund CTE programs at high schools and community colleges.  And states spend nearly 10 times that much each year on career and technical education.


The House passed the Perkins CTE Act yesterday, and I hope the President will soon sign it.


A second way for workers to learn new skills is what we are looking at today: apprenticeships. 


Apprenticeships have been around since the Middle Ages – in America, Paul Revere learned the family silversmith business as an apprentice and Elvis Presley apprenticed as an electrician before he recorded “Jailhouse Rock.”


In 2017, the United States had approximately 533,000 apprentices in federally-registered apprenticeship programs, training to become electricians, carpenters, craft laborers, , or plumbers.


In 1937, Congress created these federally-registered apprenticeships, which means they are certified by the Department of Labor or state agencies as meeting certain requirements.


Today, federally-registered apprenticeships are especially concentrated in industries like construction and manufacturing, and work well for many employers and workers. 


A federally-registered apprenticeship program must meet a number of prescriptive requirements, for example, the number of experienced workers to apprentices.


Another type of apprenticeship is an “Industry Recognized Apprenticeship.”


These apprenticeships are an alternative to federally-registered apprenticeships, with more flexible requirements developed by industry and less administrative red tape.


Last June, as part of the Administration’s effort to train more skilled workers, President Trump issued an executive order directing Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to identify ways to expand apprenticeships.


Secretary Acosta assembled a task force that highlighted concerns with the burdens of the registered apprenticeship programs’ requirements, which may discourage businesses from creating a registered apprenticeship program. The Task Force recommended the Administration promote high-quality “Industry Recognized Apprenticeships.”


The requirements for a federally registered-apprenticeship may not meet the needs of every workforce. 


There are growing industries, such as health, finance, and information technology, that have not historically harnessed the potential of apprenticeships and are facing a shortage of skilled workers.


The hope is that with a modernized approach to apprenticeships, industries that weren’t around when Paul Revere was training to be a silversmith or even when Elvis was learning to be an electrician, would be able to start apprenticeship programs.