Apprenticeships Are an Affordable Pathway for Minorities to the Tech Sector
As we celebrate diversity during the month of April, now more than ever, Americans should look to apprenticeships to provide pathways to the middle class, to good-paying, technical jobs, and as a means to supplement or replace traditional four-year, post-secondary education.
Technical fields such as technology and telecommunications provide excellent opportunities for apprenticeships and full-time entry into competitive jobs. In addition, apprenticeships can limit unemployment and spur growth during an economic downturn and provide pathways to jobs in the tech sector and beyond.
Experts are predicting that the U.S. economy is headed for a recession in late 2023 or 2024 in spite of U.S. unemployment hovering at 3.5% as of March 2023. Joblessness is at its lowest rate since the 1960s, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started to maintain such statistics. Surprisingly, the gap between unemployment between Whites and Blacks has also sharply declined to 1.8%, representing a historic low.
Despite these economic gains, the need for apprenticeships is growing now more than ever to decrease the unemployment gap and to provide pathways to the middle class for diverse communities within the United States.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations agreed that apprenticeships are needed to bolster employment rates in highly technical fields, but they disagreed on how to go about them. The Trump administration put forward Executive Order 13801, while Biden supports Registered Apprenticeship Programs through the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, which is supposed to reduce the chance of industry leaders misusing apprenticeships to reduce wage labor by removing industry stakeholders from the conversation.
The bipartisan National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 authorizes the support of nearly 1 million registered apprenticeships over the next five years to equip workers with real, hands-on experience. The goal of the National Apprenticeship Act, among others, is to develop apprenticeship models for all states, provide technical assistance and updated requirements for each occupation in the apprenticeship program, and the promotion of greater diversity in the national apprenticeship system.
According to the Department of Labor, workers completing an apprenticeship can earn a starting wage of $70,000 annually. Yet, in the U.S., apprentices make up only .2 percent of the labor force compared to much higher numbers of our European counterparts, despite statics showing that 92% of those completing apprenticeships retain employment.
In the highly technical and specialized tech sector in this country, 62% of jobs are held by White Americans, while Blacks hold 7%, Latinos 8% and Asians 20%. The tech workforce is also overwhelmingly male, as they hold 73% of all tech jobs. The tech sector layoffs from the last eight months have disproportionately affected women and minorities.
Last Congress, Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., introduced the TRAIN Act, which was intended to be considered in a bipartisan workforce development package. This legislation will soon be introduced this Congress and provides one of the only viable ways of getting something done. This bill codifies a successful existing program at DOL and wouldn’t create any new spending, which has been a hard line for many members of the GOP in the past.
Indeed, the TRAIN Act provides funding to community colleges for partnerships with local employers and is part of the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Under the WIOA, the Department of Labor awarded Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grants to expand opportunities for underrepresented communities to qualify for good jobs.
Passage of this law will strengthen the president’s goal of supporting apprenticeships, allowing Americans, particularly those of diverse communities, to get the education and hands-on experience required to enter the tech sector.
Arthur D. Sidney is a lawyer, strategist and professor with over 20 years of experience in international trade, business and technology. He is currently a senior vice president at Forbes Tate Partners. He can be reached by email.