Governors’ Leadership Remains Key to Advancing Apprenticeship in America

Targeted investment and state leadership have driven the expansion of registered apprenticeship into new sectors in addition to scaling the model in sectors where it was more traditionally used.

By Jack Porter and Rachael Stephens

More than 30 Governors have delivered their annual state of the state addresses so far in 2022. This year, Governors of both parties made clear that apprenticeship will play a prominent role in their efforts to strengthen the economy, improve economic mobility and create new and better career opportunities for residents in their states.   

This substantial, bipartisan support for apprenticeship has grown during a period in which the price of attaining a college degree has continuously increased and labor market outcomes for those who graduate remain uneven. As a result of this increasing support, participation in registered apprenticeship programs – the distinguishing element of which is paid, on-the-job training with an employer in a high-demand industry – more than doubled between 2009 and 2019.

Targeted federal investment and state leadership, including by Governors, have driven the expansion of registered apprenticeship into new sectors (such as information technology) in addition to scaling the model in sectors where it was more traditionally used (such as in the construction and manufacturing trades).

This work began with Governors’ visiting leading states and countries to learn about apprenticeship first-hand, and progressed further as a result of the American Apprenticeship Initiative, a historic $175 million federal investment to expand registered apprenticeship to which the NGA Center for Best Practices served as a technical assistance provider from 2015 – 2021. The 44 grantees who participated as part of this initiative registered over 24,000 apprentices in more than 2,000 new programs across the country.

“We’ve also focused on expanding apprenticeship programs, incorporating work-based learning in our schools, integrating computer science into the curriculum, and so much more. With these efforts, we’re on the path to giving every Iowan the opportunity to find a rewarding career.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds

“We get more kids into high-quality apprenticeship programs and institutions of higher learning that will help them build fulfilling careers and lives.”

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

Because registered apprenticeships have been proven to expand access to good jobs, provide businesses the talent they need, and because of the strong bipartisan support it receives at every level of government, registered apprenticeship programs are slated to play a major role in developing the workforce required to successfully implement the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Governors have demonstrated bipartisan support for increased federal resources and employer engagement in apprenticeship, and this new federal investment makes their continued leadership even more important. They are uniquely positioned to ensure these investments connect underserved members of the labor force to good job opportunities. Governors have long been at the forefront of bringing registered apprenticeship, youth apprenticeship and other forms of high-quality work-based learning to a wider range of high-tech sectors and to a more diverse population of Americans, including women and people of color. Best practices from several years of state leadership, federal investment and national partnership can inform how new programs are intentionally designed to connect a more diverse workforce to the best jobs of today and tomorrow, including the jobs created through IIJA and future legislation.

One clear lesson learned over the last several years is the importance of having strong partnerships across agencies, employers, institutions of higher education and training providers, as well as with other stakeholders to build successful apprenticeship programs that deliver positive results for a diverse workforce. For instance, states are increasingly relying on community colleges in their registered apprenticeship efforts, and their participation is contributing to the development of high-quality programs with strong employment outcomes across the country. Community colleges’ importance as a key partner in apprenticeship has been demonstrated through national projects including the Expanding Community Colleges Apprenticeship (ECCA) initiative – a three-year effort led by the American Association for Community Colleges, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, and for which the NGA Center for Best Practices has served as a national partner. During the first two years of the ECCA initiative, more than 11,000 apprentices were registered in a wide range of industries across 33 states and territories.

“Our students continued to pursue personal development. We enter 2022 with more than 3,900 Nebraskans in registered apprenticeship programs throughout the state—including through our six great community colleges. That’s 3,900 more Nebraskans who are pursuing growth and contributing to our diverse, skilled workforce.”

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts

Continued Gubernatorial leadership on apprenticeship will be especially crucial as states and their apprenticeship partners receive substantial federal resources, and as many industries continue to struggle to fill workforce shortages. Throughout the late winter and spring of 2022, the NGA Center for Best Practices will hold a series of events to showcase how Governors, in partnership with critical stakeholders including community colleges and employers, are leveraging registered apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship to build a thriving and inclusive economy and expand access to economic opportunity.