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Sen. Rosapepe: Registered Apprenticeships Can Fix Maryland’s Broken Labor Market

Apprenticeships
Pexels.com photo by Kindel Media.

By Sen. James C. Rosapepe

The writer, a Democrat, represents Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties’ District 21 in the Maryland Senate. He is vice chair of the Senate Budget and Tax Committee and a leading advocate of expanded state investment in workforce development.

You don’t need to see all the “hiring now” signs to know our labor market is broken. It was broken before the COVID crisis, and it is worse now.

There are several major problems:

  • The dearth of labor market intermediaries (i.e., labor union hiring halls, registered apprenticeships, industry-wide training institutions and local labor exchanges) which make it easier for job seekers to get the training they need to meet employers’ needs.
  • The lack of civilian employer access to high school students (which colleges have through the SAT tests and the military has through its recruiting test) to seamlessly inform and prepare young people for good jobs.
  • Gross underinvestment by the public sector in training for the two-thirds majority of high school graduates who don’t earn college degrees by their mid-20s. (Maryland spends more than $2 billion a year in state and local funds on the one-third minority who get degrees; we spend less than $100 million on the two-thirds majority.)
Apprenticeships

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel) Maryland manual photo.

There are proven alternatives in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada — registered apprenticeships across occupations such as health, IT, business services, construction, public services, manufacturing and more.

In recent years, Maryland has expanded apprenticeships, and, in the Kirwan school reform law Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, set robust goals and funding to integrate high school Career and Technical Education, or CTE, with apprenticeships. It’s time to take this to scale.

1. Grow registered apprenticeship slots to 80,000 by 2030 (or sooner).

To meet world-class standards, Maryland needs to grow the number of apprentices each year from less than 12,000 today to at least 80,000 (equivalent to the rates in the UK and Australia and the Kirwan law goal).

Here’s how:

Set numerical goals and timetables by sector – IT, health care, construction etc. Virtually all occupations are apprenticeable.

Invest in performance-based incentives for public and private apprenticeship intermediaries (“apprenticeship sponsors”) to stand up and manage more apprenticeships.

Provide permanent public funding for post-high school classroom instruction in apprenticeships in public college and non-public education training providers (union, employer and nonprofits). If Maryland invested at the same scale that the UK has for more than a decade, the cost would be less than 20% of what we spend today on the one-third minority of young people who earn college degrees by age 25.

Modernize the approval process for apprenticeships. Allow sponsors to use skill standards already vetted through the U.S. Department of Labor’s apprenticeship office and require the Maryland Department of Labor to register apprenticeships promptly.

2. Implement Kirwan High School Apprenticeship Plan with fidelity.

The Kirwan law has ambitious plans to scale up the high school level of registered apprenticeships with CTE as the related (classroom) instruction. Executing this plan is critical to assuring that, by 2031, the state reaches the law’s goal that at least 45% of high school graduates complete the high school level of an apprenticeship. The funding is already there. The challenge is modernizing high school CTE programs and scaling up apprenticeships (see #1 above).

3. Integrate degree training with apprenticeships.

There is no inherent conflict between traditional degree training and apprenticeships.

A few occupations have required degrees rather than skills (for example, teaching, nursing and accounting). But that need not stop integration of degree training with apprenticeship.

In degree apprenticeships, apprentices earn college credit for their off-the-job and on-the-job training. In the UK, there are more than 13,000 degree apprentices in fields from IT and law to health care and engineering.

4. End age and degree discrimination.

Degree and minimum age requirements which are too high deny opportunity to many skilled workers and create skills shortages for employers.

We don’t want child labor, but the law sets 16, not 18, as the minimum age for most jobs. Banning age discrimination from 16 could help workers and employers – and is critical to reaching the Kirwan law goals for high school level apprenticeships.

Finally, few occupations require high school or college degrees. Ending the degree discrimination, which some employers are already doing on their own, would materially improve the efficiency and capacity of the labor market – at zero cost to taxpayers.

5. Create world-class career counseling and job matching centers in every community.

The Kirwan law already provides money for comprehensive career counseling for students, and Maryland law provides for easy access for employers and apprenticeship access student results of the U.S. Department of Defense aptitude test, as well as information on unemployed adults through local workforce boards. In 2021, the legislature directed $75 million of American Rescue Act funds to the local boards to scale up apprenticeships and job matching.

The next step is to use the Kirwan law and workforce funding to make local workforce agencies the universal, full-service job counseling and matching centers they are in central Europe.

Taken together, these steps can make our labor market work well for everyone. We have the resources. It’s time to execute the vision.