Feds announce apprenticeship grant contest

President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Labor is opening a competition to spur partnerships between employers, labor, training providers, and local governments to expand apprenticeships into high-growth fields like advanced manufacturing and healthcare and scale models that work.


A trainee uses software simulating a milling machine at a Siemens training center in 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Nearly 400 trainees began an apprenticeship training programs at an in-house educational facility. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Apprenticeships are a proven path to the middle class, as 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs with an average starting wage of over $50,000. Programs like this have been successful in European countries, padding the workforce with skilled workers and providing jobs for the economy.

The move, mentioned in one of the president’s State of the Union speeches, is made in hopes of dealing with slow growth in the economy, concerns from business owners about a shortage of skilled workers, and lingering unemployment.

Its potential effectiveness is questionable on a grand scale, given a nation that is more and more obsessed with college completion, but for individual high school or community college students and young adults, the path to a skilled career, especially one in manufacturing, which has suffered in the US economy in recent decades, could be the right choice instead of college.

So on December 11, in conjunction with the launch of the American Apprenticeships Grants competition, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, presiding over a graduation at the Urban Technology Project, an apprenticeship program in Philadelphia, whose graduates learn I/T skills for careers as computer support specialists, announced the apprenticeship grants.

The Department of Labor competition will use $100 million or more of H-1B funds to award approximately 25 grants to partnerships between employers, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system, non-profits, and faith-based organizations that:

  • Launch apprenticeship models in new, high-growth fields: Many fast-growing occupations and industries with open positions such as in information technology, high-tech services, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing need the high-quality, on-the-job training provided in an apprenticeship to meet their workforce needs.
  • Align apprenticeships to pathways for further learning and career advancement: Apprenticeships that embed industry-recognized skills certifications or reward workplace learning with college credit provide an affordable educational pathway for those who need to earn while they learn, and apprenticeships linked to pre-apprenticeship programs can help more Americans access this training and get on an early pathway to a good career.
  • Scale apprenticeship models that work: Across the country, there are pockets of excellence in apprenticeship, but all too often these successful models are unknown in other regions or to other employers. These grants will build from strength and invest in innovations and strategies to scale apprenticeships – including to market the value of apprenticeships, make them more attractive to women and other Americans who have been underrepresented, increase the return on investment for workers and, or build national and regional partnerships to expand apprenticeships.

For more information on the American Apprenticeship Grants Competition, resources for launching new registered apprenticeships, and a toolkit on federal funds for apprenticeship, visit dol.gov/apprenticeship.

In addition, Skills for America’s Future is launching an online collaboration space for apprenticeship providers and foundation funders to connect. And the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee, building on new apprenticeship programs launched by Dow, Siemens, and Alcoa, is launching a How-to Toolkit to help other employers launch apprenticeships.