Cantwell, Collins Introduce Apprenticeship Bill to Address Workforce Skills Gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced legislation that would help American workers develop skills they need for well-paying, high-demand  jobs and ensure that U.S. companies have enough highly-skilled workers  to stay competitive in a 21st century global economy.

The bipartisan Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act of 2015 would create a $5,000 tax credit for employers that use apprenticeship programs to train workers in high-demand fields such as health care, manufacturing and technology. The bill, S. 959, also would allow veterans in apprenticeships to get credit for previous military training and experience.

“A skilled workforce is critical to powering economic growth and ensuring U.S. workers and businesses stay competitive in an increasingly globalized economy,” Cantwell said. “This legislation builds on the success of apprenticeship programs in Washington state and elsewhere that help businesses find and develop a skilled workforce and allow workers to earn a salary while getting on-the-job training.”

“Unemployment and underemployment are still far too high both in Maine and across our nation,” Collins said. “This bipartisan legislation not only facilitates direct investment into the career development of the next generation through apprenticeships but also helps American small businesses find and train the qualified and trusted workers they need. A strong and dynamic workforce is the most valuable asset for any employer, and with this program, our nation’s employers would be in a better position to find the skilled-workforce they need to create new, good-paying jobs.”

Apprenticeship programs benefit both the company and employee, and also often lead to higher-paying jobs that help sustain the economy. Those who complete apprenticeships earn an average of $240,000 more in lifetime wages than job seekers with similar backgrounds who don’t, according to a study by the Department of Labor. The legislation will also increase America’s competitiveness abroad by supplying trained workers for trade-reliant economic sectors. In Washington state, where aerospace is a key economic driver, more than 20,000 new workers will be needed over the next decade. In addition, nearly 30 percent of current aviation workers will be eligible for retirement by 2016.

There are 239 registered apprenticeship programs in Washington state that provide training in more than 350 fields ranging from assembly machinists to wind turbine technicians, according to state Department of Labor and Industries data.

“The Aerospace Machinists 751 applaud and appreciate Senator Cantwell’s leadership and support for the apprentice training model,” said Jon Holden, President and Directing Business Representative of IAM District 751. “If enacted, the Apprenticeship and Jobs Training Act will help American workers and businesses compete in the global economy.”

“The jobs of tomorrow will require a vastly different set of skills, which is why a strong, dynamic workforce is one of the critical ingredients to middle class prosperity,” said Gabe Horwitz, Director of the Economic Program at Third Way. “That is why we are so pleased to see Senator Maria Cantwell’s commitment to increasing on-the-job training through apprenticeships. While we must continue to significantly expand the number of middle class jobs, we must also be relentless in improving the skills of those who seek these jobs. By doing so, we can create a climate where American workers can truly thrive in a globalized economy.”

“Manufacturers need a new source of workers and to establish a pipeline, which will supply employers with a steady stream into the future,” said William Gaskin, President of the Precision Metalforming Association and Dave Tilstone, President of the National Tooling & Machining Association, in a letter supporting the legislation. “To strengthen and expand the manufacturing base in the U.S., we must address the skills gap and policies that not only incentivize employers to hire apprentices, but also encourage retiring skilled workers to teach the next generation of manufacturers.”

The legislation would:

  • Create a $5,000 tax credit for up to three years for companies that hire and pay employees enrolled in a federal- or state-registered apprentice program.  The apprentice must be employed for at least seven months before the credit can be claimed. 
  • Allow senior employees near retirement to draw from pensions early if they’re involved in mentoring or training new employees. Workers must be at least 55, and have reduced work hours to spend at least 20 percent of their time training or educating employees or students.
  • Help veterans get into skilled jobs that match their military experience sooner by allowing credit in apprenticeship requirements for previous military training.

In a 2011 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, 67 percent of industrial companies reported a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers. More than 65 percent of companies surveyed in a 2009 Urban Institute study thought apprenticeship programs helped raise productivity strengthen morale and improve worker safety. The legislation is supported by North America’s Building Trades Union.