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80-Year Old National Apprenticeship Act Might Get an Update

March 5, 2020
House Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee released a discussion draft for a $1 billion update to the 1937 National Apprenticeship Act.

Democratic members of the House Education and Labor Committee released a discussion draft for a proposed update to the National Apprenticeship Act. The draft was the topic of a bipartisan Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee hearing March 4. Also known as the Fitzgerald Act, the law hasn’t seen a significant update in about 80 years. It was passed in 1937.

The discussion draft proposes allocating $75 million for state apprenticeship agencies and an additional $50 million for the federal Office of Apprenticeship. Programs that apply for money would be required to support their apprentices financially and engage with sector- or industry-wide partners.

“Registered apprenticeships are unquestionably the nation’s most successful federally funded workforce development initiative,” said Representative Susan Davis of California, chair of the subcommittee, who released the draft legislation.

The draft appears to have the beginnings of bipartisan support. “The more we combat the misconception that a baccalaureate degree is the only viable pathway to a good job, the more we can better prepare future workers for a successful life,” said Republican Representative Lloyd Smucker at a hearing discussing the legislation March 5. Smucker, the ranking member of the subcommittee, said the hearing was an opportunity to address the “stigma” surrounding “skills-based education.”

“Today’s hearing is an opportunity to highlight and recognize that the on-job learning programs are a proven method of setting students up for success,” he said.

According to the Committee on Education and Labor, reauthorizing the act would expand registered apprenticeships, ease employer and apprentice participation, and establish standards for apprenticeship programs. On Twitter, the Committee claimed that the update could create more than 1 million “apprenticeship opportunities” over the next five years.

Kate Spiker, Director of Government Affairs at the National Skills Coalition, said the draft’s inclusion of funding for youth apprenticeships and support for business-education partnerships “a positive sign.”

“These partnerships are critical to expanding apprenticeship throughout the country and bringing together entities with the knowledge, experience, and ability to best serve workers and businesses,” she wrote in a statement.

Addressing the skilled labor shortage remains a stated priority of politicians from both parties as well as domestic manufacturers. In July 2018, President Trump signed an executive order to found the “Pledge to America’s workers” program. Companies that sign the pledge agree to provide training opportunities and apprenticeships.

According to the Department of Labor’s website, apprenticeship programs registered under the 1937 law initially trained employees in the manufacturing, construction and utilities industries. After World War II, the program spread into training firefighters, police and paramedics. According to Spiker, the act has never been “substantively” updated.

About the Author

Ryan Secard | Associate Editor


Focus: Workforce and labor issues; machining and foundry management

Associate Editor Ryan Secard covers topics relevant to the manufacturing workforce, including recruitment, safety, labor organizations, and the skills gap. Ryan has written IndustryWeek's Salary Survey annually since 2021 and has coordinated its Talent Advisory Board since September 2023.

Ryan got started at IndustryWeek in August 2019 as an editorial intern and was hired as a news editor in 2020 before his 2023 promotion to associate editor, talent. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Wooster.

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