National Apprenticeship Week: Developing a 21st Century Workforce

 Our nation and our State face great challenges in a global economy.  But we also have distinct advantages – first and foremost, our willingness to meet every challenge with ingenuity and determination.
      One challenge of paramount importance is developing a workforce with the skills and knowledge the 21st Century requires. Americans have a work ethic and desire to succeed that is unsurpassed.  Yet a concern I hear again and again from Maine employers is the need to better align workforce training programs with the skills needed to compete today and into the future.
      Despite recent improvements in our nation’s unemployment rate, some job openings in high-growth industries remain unfilled.  In fact, recent data show that about one-third of the increase in unemployment among college-educated workers in the United States was the result of workers not having the right skills for the positions available.
      Apprenticeships are a tried and true approach for passing on the practical training needed to succeed in a job to the next generation.  An apprenticeship is just as applicable to the complex skills needed to compete in the 21st century workforce as it was in the 18th century when this country was founded.  
      I am a coauthor of the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2015 that would give employers a $5,000 tax credit based on wages paid by companies who hire individuals enrolled in a federal or state registered apprentice program, which must meet stringent standards for instructional rigor and quality training.  For every dollar we invest in apprenticeships, we get a return on investment of $27.  When we make investments in the American workforce, our country benefits from the strong return and positive growth they yield.
      I recently co-sponsored a Senate Resolution designating the week of November 2, 2015 as “National Apprenticeship Week.”  The resolution recognizes the importance of apprenticeships in today’s highly skilled workforce and that an apprenticeship is a significant pathway to rewarding careers.   
      In fact, a recent evaluation of registered apprenticeship programs in 10 states found that individuals who completed the programs earned more than $240,000 more over their careers than those not participating in such program.
      The benefits for employers offering registered apprenticeship programs are just as significant.  These programs help recruit and develop a highly skilled workforce that improves both productivity and the bottom line, with reduced turnover costs.  From high-tech and aerospace to home health care and the building trades, these programs create industry-driven solutions to emerging needs.
      Maine has some of the most forward-looking and successful apprenticeship programs in the county.  In May, I was delighted to host U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in our state to showcase the success of the innovative workforce training programs located at two anchors of Maine’s economy: Bath Iron Works and the Portsmouth Naval Ship Yard in Kittery.  The visit underscored a shared commitment – indeed a passion - to work to ensure that Maine workers have the education, skills, and training needed for the jobs of the future.  These shipyards employ more than 11,000 workers with a payroll of nearly $600 million, and they are essential to our national security.
      The innovative job training programs at BIW and the Shipyard require commitment and close collaboration from businesses, communities, educational institutions, and military leaders.  They serve as models for the nation and help fuel a powerful economic engine.  These programs develop the skilled and knowledgeable workforce required to sustain cutting-edge work, help close the skills gap, and prepare a new generation of workers for the 21st century economy, while also keeping good-paying jobs in our great state!
      The Trades Learning Center at BIW represents a good example of collaboration among the shipyard, unions, and Southern Maine Community College, ensuring that the motto “Bath-Built is Best Built!” remains the cornerstone of the private shipbuilding industry.  At Portsmouth, the Apprentice and Worker Skills Progression Program is renowned for its success, with apprentices making up about one-third of the production workforce.
      Like the products and services that drive our economy, the skills needed to succeed change over time. I am confident that we can address these challenges by working together and thinking of innovative solutions.