In 2020, I wrote about the promise of apprenticeship to help our nation recover and build back the economy in a more inclusive way. A year later, we are beginning to see some good signs – both for beating this pandemic and bringing new and innovative approaches to getting people into promising careers, including clean energy jobs.
There are two main drivers influencing this landscape today. First, we have high unemployment with estimates ranging from 13 to 19 million Americans out of work. For people with disabilities, the labor force participation rate was only 33% in March (compared to 76% for those without disabilities). Second, companies in the fastest-growing sectors, such as clean energy and IT, are facing a serious problem: a dearth of talent. This is due in part to a widening skills gap as U.S. population growth stagnates and college student population declines.
To help address these issues, I recently helped launch the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Our goal is to design inclusive apprenticeship programs that meet employer talent needs and give people with disabilities, veterans, youth and others the opportunity to gain credentials and skills to succeed in growing industries.
By “earning while you learn,” apprentices can enter new careers and shift into areas that need their talent. They are chosen based on a competency assessment rather than past experience or skill level, which means our partners are able to find applicants from traditionally underserved labor pools. The great news is we are gaining traction across government and in the business community. President Biden recently signed an executive order to increase equity for underrepresented minorities, including the 61 million adults currently living with a disability.
While apprenticeship has been used in the U.S. workforce since 1937, both the executive and legislative branches have shown an increased commitment to significantly fund apprenticeship expansion with a focus on “new collar jobs.” The president’s recent budget request and the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 are both great signs of more coming investment in registered apprenticeship.
Perhaps the area with the greatest promise is the role of inclusive apprenticeship in clean energy jobs. The President’s recent executive order on Tackling the Climate Crisis highlights the intersection of climate, equity and jobs. It states that significant federal clean energy investment can help the U.S. economy recover if new, clean energy jobs and economic opportunities reach people and communities that have been limited by longstanding social and racial injustice.
This message is also resonating with businesses and unions alike. We are seeing increased demand for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs with a 70% increase since 2011. This is because they recognize it as a proven way to build a more diverse and innovative workforce.
For example, our partner, Apprenti, has shown that while only 25% of the IT workforce are underrepresented groups such as women, racial minorities and veterans, 82% of their apprenticeship applicants are in these targeted groups. And this is causing companies to consider apprenticeships more and more to meet their talent pipeline needs.
In Fiscal Year 2020, more than 221,000 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system. I am excited to help us continue to increase the number of inclusive apprenticeships with the partnerships we are creating through the Department of Labor.
I look forward to hearing from others who want to collaborate!
Sr. Consultant and Accessibility Practice Lead, Wheelhouse Group
Josh Christianson has a 20+ year proven track record leading successful public programs by building partnerships, momentum, and teams to support big goals. Josh currently serves as director of the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship and the former director of the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology.