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Sen. Rosapepe: Registered apprenticeships can fix Maryland’s broken job market

Photo by Kindel Media.

By Senator James C. Rosapepe

The writer, a Democrat, represents District 21 of Prince George and Anne Arundel Counties in the Maryland Senate. He is Vice Chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and a leading advocate for increased state investment in workforce development.

You don’t have to see all the “hire now” signs to know our labor market is broken. It was broken before the COVID crisis, and it’s worse now.

There are several major issues:

  • The shortage of labor market intermediaries (i.e. union recruiting offices, registered apprenticeships, industry-wide training institutions and local labor exchanges) that enable job seekers to more easily obtain the training they need to meet the needs of employers.
  • Civilian employers’ lack of access to high school students (which colleges have through SAT tests and the military has through its recruit test) to seamlessly inform and prepare young people for good jobs.
  • Gross public sector underinvestment in training the two-thirds of high school graduates who do not graduate from college by their mid-twenties. (Maryland spends more than $2 billion a year in state and local funds for the one-third minority who earn degrees; we spend less than $100 million for the two-thirds majority.)

Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s, Anne Arundel) Maryland photo manual.

There are proven alternatives in Europe, the UK, Australia and Canada – registered apprenticeships in occupations such as healthcare, IT, business services, construction, utilities, manufacturing and more again.

In recent years, Maryland has expanded apprenticeship programs and, in the Kirwan School Reform Act Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, has set strong goals and funding to integrate vocational education and technique in high school, or CTE, to apprenticeships. It’s time to scale up.

1. Increase the number of registered apprenticeship places to 80,000 by 2030 (or sooner).

To meet world-class standards, Maryland must increase the number of apprentices each year from less than 12,000 today to at least 80,000 (equivalent to rates in the UK and Australia and the goal of the Kirwan law).

Here’s how:

Set numerical goals and timelines by sector – IT, healthcare, construction, etc. Virtually all professions are apprenticeable.

Invest in performance-based incentives for public and private learning intermediaries (“learning sponsors”) to step up and manage more learning.

Provide ongoing public funding for post-secondary classroom education in apprenticeships at public colleges and non-public training providers (unions, employers, and nonprofit organizations). If Maryland invested on the same scale as the UK has for more than a decade, the cost would be less than 20% of what we spend today on the one-third minority of young people graduating from college at the age of 25.

Modernize the apprenticeship approval process. Allow sponsors to use skill standards already approved by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship and require the Maryland Department of Labor to promptly record apprenticeships.

2. Implement the Kirwan High School Learning Plan with fidelity.

Kirwan Law has ambitious plans to expand the secondary level of recorded learning with CTE as related (in-class) instruction. Execution of this plan is critical to ensuring that, by 2031, the state meets the law’s goal of at least 45% of high school graduates completing the high school level of an apprenticeship. The funding is already there. The challenge is to modernize high school CTE programs and expand apprenticeships (see #1 above).

3. Integrate diploma training into learning.

There is no inherent conflict between traditional degree training and apprenticeship.

A few professions require degrees rather than skills (for example, teaching, nursing, and accounting). But this should not prevent the integration of diploma training into apprenticeship.

In degree-based apprenticeships, apprentices earn college credit for their off-the-job and on-the-job training. In the UK there are over 13,000 graduate apprentices in fields ranging from IT and law to healthcare and engineering.

4. End discrimination based on age and degree.

Excessive qualification and minimum age requirements deprive many skilled workers of opportunities and create skills shortages for employers.

We don’t want child labor, but the law sets 16, not 18, as the minimum age for most jobs. Banning age discrimination from the age of 16 could help workers and employers – and is key to achieving the goals of the Kirwan Act for high school apprenticeships.

Finally, few occupations require a high school or college diploma. Ending the degree of discrimination, which some employers already practice on their own, would dramatically improve the efficiency and capacity of the labor market – at no cost to taxpayers.

5. Create world-class career counseling and job matching centers in every community.

The Kirwan law already provides funds for comprehensive career counseling for students, and the Maryland law provides employers and apprentices with easy access to student scores from the U.S. Department of Defense Aptitude Test, as well as information on unemployed adults through local labor boards. In 2021, the Legislature allocated $75 million in American Rescue Act funds to local councils to ramp up apprenticeships and job matching.

The next step is to use the Kirwan Act and workforce funding to make local placement agencies the universal full-service guidance and placement centers they are in Central Europe.

Together, these measures can make our labor market work well for everyone. We have the resources. It’s time to execute the vision.

Tags : high school
Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson