Every child deserves the opportunity to achieve their version of the American Dream. Oftentimes, that doesn’t include attending a 4-year college or university.” – Senator Thune.

With the trend of getting a four-year degree now on the decline, more and more people entering the workforce are looking at apprenticeships as a way to train for a good-paying skill.

And the need for skilled tradesmen is dire right now. To demonstrate the need for skilled trades workers, as of this writing, there are openings for 400,000 welders, 78,000 truck drivers, 18,000 aircraft mechanics, and an extreme need for electric vehicle technicians – enough of a need that would fill an entire large-scale EV repair facility.

Two reasons why we have these shortages now is that for the last 50 years or so, the nationwide push in schools and from Congress has been to go to college after graduating from high school.

That push for a four-year degree has resulted in today, fewer than 9% of the skilled trades workers 19 to 24 years old. And half of the skilled trades people are over age 55, so many of those will be retiring soon. During the pandemic, many did take an early retirement and left the trades field.

In one of the latest efforts by Congress to assist with boosting apprenticeships, U.S. Senators Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Mike Braun (R-IN) have joined forces by introducing The Training America’s Workforce Act. The basics of the act would require the Department of Labor to restart industry-recognized apprenticeship programs or IRAPS for short. By starting back up the IRAPs program it would expand apprenticeship training program, thus not only making it easier for students to get certified in a skill, but to also provide a wider range of training opportunities to choose from.

It would also give support to the apprenticeships programs that are used by the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) chapter throughout the United States to hire and train individuals needed in the construction trades field – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and HVAC workers.

Kristen Swearingen, Vice President of legislative and political affairs at ABC said, “We know that the flexible and modern approach of industry-recognized programs provides new opportunities for all of America’s workers. ABC appreciates Senator Thune, Scott, Braun, and Tuberville’s efforts to better serve construction professionals throughout the country.”

However, this latest legislation on apprenticeships is not the first. In the 117th Congress, the same basic bill S.3768 was introduced by Sens. Thune and Scott , but it was not enacted into law. Under that proposed legislation, each apprenticeship program would include:

  • paid work
  • on-the-job training
  • a mentorship component
  • education and classroom instruction
  • a written training plan and apprenticeship agreement
  • safety and supervision components and
  • an industry-recognized credential upon successful completion of the apprenticeship

This new bill – S.1213 – Training America’s Workforce Act – includes the same requirements and has so far been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and is where it currently sits awaiting committee action.

Formal apprenticeship program legislation dates back to the National Apprenticeship Act in 1937 that was enacted to help get America back to work in the trades industry after the Great Depression. The current legislation amends that original legislation as America tries to expand apprenticeship training programs that will address the nationwide shortage of skilled workers needed to fill open (and good-paying) jobs here in America.

As we approach National Skilled Trades Day on May 3, the question is will this legislation in the 118th Congress pass or will it go the way of the same bill in the 117th Congress and fail to address the dire trade industry needs of today and tomorrow?

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.