On Feb. 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021. This bill would invest nearly $3.5 billion over five years to scale-up apprenticeship opportunities, streamline access to apprenticeships for workers and employers, and expand apprenticeships into new, in-demand industry sectors and occupations. The bill would also codify standards for registered apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship programs and youth apprenticeships so that they meet common high benchmarks.

Congress had not reauthorized the National Apprenticeship Act since it was first passed in 1937.

“Registered apprenticeships are this nation’s most successful federally funded workforce development initiative,” says Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-VA, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor and the bill’s principle sponsor. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans count on registered apprenticeships to access paid, on-the-job learning opportunities and career pathways. Investing in registered apprenticeships not only benefits workers; it also strengthens our economy and helps employers build pipelines of talented and dedicated workers.”

The bill is supported by numerous organizations representing businesses in dire need of skilled labor, including the Manufacturing Institute, the IPC, North America’s Building Trades Unions, the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, and the National Association of Home Builders.

“Manufacturers’ top challenge continues to be the ability to attract and retain a qualified workforce,” notes Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute. “At the end of 2020, there were nearly 500,000 open jobs in manufacturing. The current health crisis in our country has left millions without jobs and exacerbated the need for individuals to receive training for the careers that are available now and in the future.

“Registered apprenticeship programs are one tool that can be utilized to support the business community in closing the skills gap and helping individuals enter a rewarding career,” she continues. “The [bill] addresses many of the challenges that manufacturers have long experienced in the registered apprenticeship system by streamlining the registration and approval process and providing a more direct means of support for the companies and education partners that wish to create or expand registered apprenticeship programs.”

“More than two-thirds of IPC’s U.S. members report that an inability to find and retain skilled workers is limiting their growth and competitiveness,” adds Sandy Gentry, IPC communications director. “The pressure is on our industry to tap the institutional and technical knowledge of an aging workforce to train the next generation of workers, even as younger workers also learn the skills required for the factories of the future.

“Well-crafted apprenticeship programs offer individuals…an effective means of gaining the skills and mentoring necessary to thrive in certain fields, including electronics. However, the United States has failed to cultivate an environment in which apprenticeship programs flourish, except in a few industries. The current structure of the existing apprenticeship program in the United States is onerous for employers, which is a key reason why apprenticeships are not as popular in the U.S. as they are in Europe. [The bill] would streamline some reporting requirements, improve the registration system, and allow various program costs, including new machinery and equipment, to be included as allowable costs for all grant dollars.”

The bill passed 247-173 on a near party line vote. It heads next to the Senate. We urge the Senate to pass the bill and President Biden to sign it into law.