A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing – Well-meaning Legislators Unleash Harmful Apprenticeship Bills

These days, it seems like every elected official in Maryland is talking about apprenticeship. As one of the largest providers of apprenticeship training in the state, and long-time advocates that public schools need to embrace career paths other than college for high school graduates, we are very encouraged.

But while we are encouraged apprenticeship is getting some long-over-due respect, we are equally concerned over a rash of apprenticeship bills that reveal the authors may not be quite clear on what, exactly, apprenticeship is and what it is not. And as a result, these bills could actually do more harm than good.

Contrary to popular assumption present in these bills, apprenticeship does not lead to a job.  In fact, you cannot become an apprentice, in the eyes of the State of Maryland, until you first get a job.

That statement bears an explaination: when a high school graduate contacts us and tells us they want to sign up and become an apprentice, we explain to him or her they must first get a job in their chosen trade and then ask the employer to “sponsor” them as an apprentice with a registered provider.

Many of the apprenticeship bills have the very good intention of wanting to create new jobs. We applaud the intent. But unfortunately, none of these bills are going to have that net effect.

If they want to create more opportunities for young people to pursue a career as a craft professional, then they would do well to draft legislation that establish and fund pre-apprenticeship programs that will fill the gap left by vocational education. A pre-apprenticeship program will take the high school graduate, and provide them with the classroom and hands-on laboratory training that will make them attractive to a construction employer.

The open shop construction industry hopes that legislators and public educators will begin to focus on the real issues facing all young adults in Maryland and their prospects for well-paying employment. As an industry that faces a significant current and future skilled worker shortage, we need legislators and educators willing to support programs that encourage students and young adults to look at construction as well-paying, meaningful work.

Most the apprenticeship bills currently before the Maryland legislature do nothing to address these issues, but instead favor the union model of construction, which accounts for just 13 percent of the construction industry in Maryland. Fortunately, one of these unhelpful bills, HB 465, the EARN Apprenticeships Act, has already received an unfavorable report by the House Economic Matters Committee. ABC opposes this bill because it does nothing to encourage young adults to enroll in an apprenticeship program.

Another prime example, is the Providing Our Workers Education and Readiness Apprenticeship Act (HB 467/SB 699). This well-meaning, but ultimately harmful bill, will impose the same apprenticeship regulations present on public works construction onto the private sector. It won’t create any new jobs, but it will have the net effect of scaring off developers from investing in the economy, which will have the net effect of eliminating jobs!

[UPDATE: HB 467 narrowly passed out of the House Economic Matters Committee yesterday. ABC encourages all legislators concerned about creating more jobs to please oppose this bill.]

One bill gets it right:

  • HB 652/SB 335, the Career Apprenticeship Opportunity Act of 2017: This bill requires the State Board of Education to develop, on or before December 1, 2017, goals for percentages of high school graduates for completing specified career and technical education programs and earning specified credentials. The bill requires the BOE to develop a method to consider a student’s attainment of a specified credential or completion of a specified apprenticeship program as equivalent to a specified Advanced Placement examination score for a specified purpose.
  • Why ABC supports HB 652: This bill gets to the foundation of what is wrong with how we educate our young adults. Not everyone is college bound, nor is college the only way to secure a well-paying career or to achieve a successful life. Public education should provide opportunities for all its students to choose a path that best fits and best benefits them. It should recognize trade programs as equally valuable to a student’s learning. The result of any educational endeavor should be getting a job. To achieve this end, HB 652 offers a one year, $1,000 tax credit to employers, for the first year, for each new apprentice it places. The program is patterned after a similar program in South Carolina that proved highly successful.

ABC will continue to push for apprenticeship opportunities that include and benefit Maryland youth. We look forward to a dialogue that begins at the ground level. We will continue to engage and educate schools, parents and the business community that college isn’t the only way to the American dream. It can still be built, quite literally, brick by brick. We hope the Maryland legislature will continue to support the merit shop construction industry in promoting the real potential of trade apprenticeship programs.

For more information on the value of career and technical education and the skilled worker shortage in construction, check out our graph below.