The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 on Feb. 5. This bill, which now heads to the Senate, would invest nearly $3.5 billion over five years to ramp up apprenticeship opportunities, streamline access to apprenticeships for workers and employers, and expand apprenticeships into new, in-demand industry sectors and occupations. The bill would also codify standards for registered apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship programs and youth apprenticeships so that they meet common high benchmarks.
Independently, Maine is also adding $12 million to expand its apprenticeship program as part of a broader effort to help the state’s workforce shortage.
Why the focus on apprenticeships? Well, if you’ve tried to call a plumber lately or to get a carpenter to give a quote on a new project, you probably know that tradespeople are hard to find right now.
Chances are you’re going to be disappointed when the project of your dreams – or a leaking pipe – is not a top priority. Unfortunately for homeowners, contractors are months, and sometimes years, out from being able to take on a new project.
Local builders – like owners of many small, specialized businesses across the state – have been sounding the alarm about a worker shortage for years. They have warned that there are not enough younger workers to take the place of those who are retiring.
We’ve reached the tipping point.
With no one to pass their business to, retiring tradespeople are simply closing their doors and leaving their customers scrambling.
Apprenticeships provide paid on-the-job training. They are a win-win for employers and employees. And with the state and federal governments looking to lend a hand, they also further compensate the business with resources to facilitate the training.
As we look to expand these programs, we should also make sure that apprentices stay in the state when their training is done. This could be accomplished by mandating that apprentices stay with the company that trained them for a period of time after their program ends. After all, the company used some of its own resources to train and foster the skills necessary to grow in the profession.
Addressing the worker shortage in Maine needs to be a top priority and it needs immediate attention at all layers of government. The workforce needs an infusion and expanding apprenticeship opportunities throughout the state is a step in the right direction.