In-Depth: Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to provide industry intermediaries, such as state tech associations, with the ability to receive federal grants to develop technology sector apprenticeships. When he introduced this bill last Congress, Sen. Gardner said:
“As the technology sector begins to play an even larger role in our economy, it’s important our workforce has the necessary skills and training to perform these jobs. The technology industry currently faces a workforce shortage and Congress must work together to address this problem. This bipartisan legislation is an innovative solution to address the workforce shortage and will result in more Coloradans and Americans across the country receiving the proper training to enter the technology industry. The next 100 years will be defined by our ability to compete in the technology sector and the CHANCE in Tech Act will help the United States remain the global leader in technological developments.”
Original Senate cosponsor Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) adds:
“Graduates want high quality jobs, and growing technology companies want skilled employees – the CHANCE in Tech Act provides an opportunity to bridge this gap. The expanding technology sector offers opportunities for good 21st century jobs, and partnerships between employers and schools will ensure that students graduate with the skills and experiences they need to be qualified for such jobs. This bill has great potential to increase employment and advance technological initiatives across the country.”
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), sponsor of this bill’s House companion in both the 115th and 116th Congresses, says:
“Our economy and the types of jobs Americans do are changing fast, but Congress is moving slowly to prepare the country for those changes. Let’s pass the CHANCE in Tech Act so workers have an easier time learning the skills they need to land one of the hundreds of thousands of great-paying technology jobs currently available across the country.”
CompTIA supports this bill. Its Executive Vice President for Public Advocacy, Elizabeth Hyman, says:
“The CHANCE in Tech Act addresses the growing tech talent challenge in the U.S. by encouraging public-private funding for apprenticeship programs in the technology sector and by providing students with the necessary skills to compete in the 21st Century workforce. While a majority of careers today require skills in science, technology, engineering and math, many tech jobs do not require an advanced college degree or years of studying and training. Apprenticeship programs can help to fill the skills gap by quickly training and preparing workers for tech jobs across multiple sectors of our economy. The CHANCE in Tech Act will ensure that quality candidates are recruited and provide compressed and targeted training to meet specific employer needs. Additionally, secondary schools will be recognized for ensuring their classrooms are teaching the necessary skills for students to compete in the 21st century workforce.”
Brent Parton, deputy director of the center on education and skills at the New America Foundation, argues that growing the U.S. apprenticeship system, “even at a modest level, could be transformative.” He adds that apprenticeship is “an underutilized way of learning, something that’s really been something of a best-kept secret in a handful of industries.”
Some critics of apprenticeship programs point out that they tend to exclude women and people of color, particularly in higher-wage positions. Currently, most apprentices are white and male. In 2017, the DOL cancelled two contracts that sought to promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in apprenticeship programs.
More broadly, apprenticeship programs in the U.S. are plagued by doubts about their ability to become mainstream. Unlike in Europe, where apprenticeship programs are deeply ingrained in countries’ cultures (as is the case in Switzerland, where most 15-year-olds are in apprenticeships, or Germany, where the culture of apprenticeship has existed for hundreds of years thanks to strong national trade unions’ support), federally registered apprenticeships currently account for only 0.3% of the overall U.S. workforce.
Due in part to their rarity in the U.S., apprenticeships also don’t have a well-defined relationship with higher education. Governing’s J.B. Wogan observes, “Proponents often trip over how to describe [apprenticeships] in relation to higher education: Are these part of someone’s eventual path to a four-year bachelor’s degree, or are they a cost-effective substitute for college?”
There are also practical barriers to expanding apprenticeship as a concept. The modern economy, in which workers have increased mobility and an easier time switching jobs, makes employers wary of investing in worker training, such as apprenticeships. Additionally, because apprenticeships train workers more narrowly than traditional college degrees, workers who are trained in such programs are among the most vulnerable workers during recessions, as their relatively narrower skill sets and less flexible knowledge can make it difficult to switch between industries.
This legislation has three bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican, in the 116th Congress. Its House version, sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), has 15 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 12 Democrats and three Republicans. It is also supported by a range of technology organizations, including CompTIA, CALinnovates, The Software Alliance, ACT, the App Association, BSA, Developers Alliance, Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and more.
Last Congress, this legislation had three bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican. Its House version, sponsored by Rep. Moulton, had 46 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 33 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Neither bill received a committee vote last Congress.
Of Note: CompTIA reports that the technology sector contributed over $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2017. It also employed more than 11.5 million workers and added more than 200,000 jobs. However, there are still many more jobs in technology than there are skilled workers to fill those openings: during any given 90-day period, there can be more than 500,000 tech job openings.
At present, only 40% of American K-12 schools and 20% of U.S. high schools teach students the computer science skills that will set them up for well-paying computing jobs. The shortfall in qualified technology sector workers is set to be exacerbated by the retirement of nearly 800,000 IT workers from 2017-2024.
Apprenticeships are arrangements that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component in which an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills. Companies with apprenticeship programs register with either the DOL or a state labor agency. Program participants are paid by the employer while they receive training at work and in an educational setting (such as a college classroom or trade school). At the end of the program, the apprentice receives a job and an industry-recognized credential based on passing some form of assessment. Apprenticeship programs are overseen by either the federal government or a state agency in order to ensure that they meet national quality standards.
In 2016, then-National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients and then-Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez argued that apprenticeships are a strategic investment that pays dividends for both employees and employers. They observed that 91% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, and that the average starting salary for someone coming out of an apprenticeship program is over $60,000. They also noted that employers benefit from apprenticeship programs, as every dollar invested in an apprentice returns $1.47 to the employer in the form of increased productivity, reduced waste, and greater innovation.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Hiraman)