Guest Opinion: Rebuilding our economy with higher education, apprenticeships
For 113 consecutive months, the United States’ economy saw an increase in the number of jobs, the longest streak on record. Then the coronavirus hit, leaving at least 30 million Americans unemployed and eliminating the past decade’s employment growth. While we once focused on maintaining our robust gains, we are now picking up the pieces. Our country is currently in the middle of a storm, but when it clears, millions of Americans will be ready and willing to get back to work, and we will have an economy in need of rebuilding. Pairing higher education with apprenticeships will help get hardworking people back on their feet while equipping them with new skills fit for the 21st-century economy.
We were both raised in Bucks County; both of our parents still call it home. We understand the importance of high-skilled jobs in our economy. From Bensalem to Kintnersville, Bucks is home to thousands of high-skilled workers who worked hard to make our home a great place. When we emerge from this crisis, we can create opportunities for those who lost their jobs and help them re-enter the workforce in a better position than before, by preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow.
Earlier this year, we introduced the Student Apprenticeship Act, a bipartisan bill that brings together higher education and applied skills training by modernizing workforce education and growing the number of registered apprenticeships nationwide. Specifically, the bill promotes collaboration between higher education institutions, employers and labor by creating a grant program to create apprenticeship opportunities for students.
As both a student and an apprentice, a participant in the program would work to earn a two-or-four-year college degree and an industry credential while being paid a salary from their employer. Meanwhile, the employer would pay at least 25 percent of the student’s college tuition and fees. At the end of the apprenticeship, the employer would have an employee with valuable skills tailored exactly to their job.
Our bill would also create competitive grants for institutions of higher education, employers, and workforce agencies to offset the costs associated with developing and executing the student-apprenticeship program. This includes developing a curriculum and basic standards, enabling on-the-job learning and mentoring, and supporting services such as tutoring, transportation, childcare, and housing assistance.
Finally, our bill updates the federal work-study program to allow apprenticeship programs to qualify as work-study programs. This allows students who demonstrate financial need to earn additional funds to pay their tuition through work that aligns with their studies and their chosen career path.
Studies show that student apprenticeships, which allow students to learn job-related skills while earning college credit, lead to quality employment, equip workers with valuable skills, and help employers meet their workforce needs. Apprenticeships strengthen a student’s academic experience by providing them with training and skills development that better prepares them for re-entering the workforce and their future career.
The current global catastrophe and supply chain disruption make it clear that we must invest in people and industry right here in America. By promoting cooperation between higher education and apprentice programs, the Student Apprenticeship Act will help prepare Americans of all ages for good-paying jobs in the post-coronavirus economy. We, as a nation, must be creative and smart if we want to emerge from this crisis with a firm hold on our position as a global economic leader — our bill would be a great place to start.