Expanding higher education opportunities should include apprenticeships

Sep 22, 2017
Editorial
By Rep. Susan Davis

When thinking of higher education, most people’s minds go straight to a four-year degree. There is no doubt we need to expand opportunities and increase the affordability of two-year and four-year degrees.

However, higher education is essentially all the formal learning we do after high school. Higher education is the bridge between high school to many careers. A neglected component of higher education and our economy is apprenticeships. They are key to building a highly skilled workforce and closing the skills gap.

As the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, I believe there is a real opportunity to build on the success of effective programs and make apprenticeships even more of a valued option for young people.

More and more students say they are looking for more flexible education choices to meet their busy schedules. We need to answer their call and make quality apprenticeships a viable possibility for all students.

Registered apprenticeships have been training students for quality, high paying jobs for decades.

Many of these programs work with local community colleges to build and develop curriculum that allows apprentices to transition into other higher education pathways and high paying jobs.

Apprenticeships must be prestigious enough to attract bright students. Parents want to know their children are receiving a quality education with high standards that will lead to a prosperous future.

A number of successful apprenticeship programs are on display right here in San Diego.

When it comes to apprenticeships, the ones that come to mind are trades, such as welding or construction.

But did you know there are apprenticeships at SDG&E, MTS, and Solar Turbines that employees of these companies access to learn new skills? In August I had the opportunity to visit these companies and speak with their apprentices about what drew them to the programs.

Learning about these programs firsthand and discussing how we can encourage more young people to participate in earn-as-you-learn opportunities was invaluable. 

Apprenticeships are not just a benefit to the apprentice, they help companies recruit and train new employees.

I plan to take these ideas back to Congress to find ways to further promote apprenticeship programs.

I will be drafting legislation to increase funding for apprenticeships and ensure they are held to a high standard.

In addition to an increase in funding, my proposal would seek to expand the types of apprenticeships available and ensure these programs are led by industry partners in collaboration with local schools.

However, if taxpayers are going to invest in these important programs, there must be accountability for students and their families. We have seen time and again that industries cannot self-regulate, and it is our responsibility to protect the interest of our students.

Apprenticeships can be made more appealing by expanding them beyond the traditional trades. Companies must build upon the phenomenal work the building trades have done to open up apprenticeships in new industries.

By recognizing and rewarding companies who develop successful programs, we can incentivize more industries to expand apprenticeships across the country.

Success in this area means we have to engage with all of our partners in this effort. Whether it is learning from the important work unions have done in this space, asking businesses to continue their engagement, or looking to schools and nonprofit organizations to develop meaningful curriculum for apprentices, we know this must be a collaborative process. 

That’s why it was so disappointing to see federal dollars for apprenticeship programs eliminated from a spending bill for labor programs. These dollars in the past were used to promote diversity and support intermediaries so small businesses can benefit from apprenticeships.

Instead, we should expand these programs to encourage young people to take an “Apprenticeship Summer” – connecting them with local businesses to learn high-quality skills that are not offered by most high schools.

From my conversations with my colleagues on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I know apprenticeships have great support. I hope we can come together in a bipartisan manner to expand apprenticeship programs and create multiple paths to higher education and good paying jobs. 

First appeared in San Diego Uptown News