Antwain Nelson enrolled in a local YouthBuild program and gained much more than just construction skills. Now he works for GRID Alternatives, installing solar for underserved communities.

Building Skills

Egan Reich
Nov 10, 2016 · 5 min read

To put people on the path to meaningful careers we need to provide them with the skills, credentials and certifications that businesses are looking for right now. We must ask this question about everything we do:

Is it helping ready-to-work-Americans move into ready-to-be-filled jobs?

Job-Driven Training: A Path Forward

In the 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden with overseeing a thorough review of our workforce investment regime with the aim of ensuring that these programs aligned with available jobs.

The animating principle of this review was “job-driven training,” and in its wake, a bipartisan Congress passed and the president signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Actthe largest overhaul of our workforce system in more than 15 years.

The new law gives us the tools to better coordinate with key workforce partners, including business leaders, workforce boards, labor unions, community colleges and nonprofits, and state and local officials.

Case in point: One of our grant recipients in Nevada used its award to contract with the WorkPlace, creator of the Platform to Employment program, to help long-term unemployed workers in the Las Vegas and Reno areas. This public-private partnership provides case management and employment services for long-term unemployed workers, and then places those workers in paid jobs for an eight-week trial period, after which participating employers have the option to offer them permanent positions.

Apprenticeships: Not Just for Blacksmiths and Sorcerers Anymore

Apprenticeship is a tried-and-true model for punching one’s ticket to the middle class. The United States has historically under-invested in this earn-while-you-learn model, to our disadvantage.

The apprenticeship return on investment is dramatic: Studies show that over the career of an apprentice, we see a return of $27 for every $1 we invest in apprenticeships.

Lisa Davis switched from medical school to a sheet metal apprenticeship, and couldn’t be happier. Photo courtesy of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.

Meanwhile, the average starting salary for an apprenticeship graduate is over $50,000 a year. Apprenticeship graduates also earn about $300,000 more on average over the course of their careers in wages and benefits.

In 2014, President Obama issued a bold challenge to double the number of apprentices in registered apprenticeship programs within five years. Since then, the nation has added more than 112,000 − the largest increase in a decade. And $175 million in 2015 grants to 46 public-private partnerships is expected to result in 34,000 new apprenticeships.

We’re on track to reach 500,000 active apprentices by the end of fiscal year 2016.

Additionally, we’ve expanded the already 181 member-strong ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERs campaign that recruits industry leaders to promote the apprenticeship model with other firms and help build a national movement. And we also have expanded our international partnerships by signing two joint declarations of intent with Germany and Switzerland. These will support foreign direct investment in the U.S. by international companies seeking a skilled workforce.

In April 2016, the administration took another step to increase access to apprenticeship — using the $90 million provided by Congress for new investments through ApprenticeshipUSA to help states strengthen regional industry partnerships, spur partnerships in fast-growing and high-tech industries, and increase diversity among apprentices.

A culinary apprenticeship helped turn Joe Gomez’s life around: “If it had not been for registered apprenticeship, I don’t know where I would be, probably another statistic in and out of prison. It changed my life.”

Because it’s not an either/or choice when it comes to apprenticeship and college, we’re making it easier for apprentices to earn college credit through our Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium, which has expanded to over 253 colleges and 975 training programs.

And we are also making it easier for employers and others to leverage federal resources and education programs — including the GI Bill, Pell grants, and others — to support participation in apprenticeship.

Community Colleges: America’s Not-So-Secret Job Incubators

Secretary Perez often calls community colleges “the secret sauce” of workforce development. They are critical to our efforts to grow the economy from the middle out, empowering adult learners with the tools they need to punch their ticket to the middle class.

Starting in 2011, we launched the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program, or TAACCCT. Over four years, it became a nearly $2 billion investment to help community colleges partner with employers in their communities to build instructional programs that would meet the workforce needs of a growing economy.

Take Pima Community College Aviation Technology Center, for example. The college provides training opportunities in aviation technology and an avionics technician certificate for students of all ages that help them grow their skills and move up the ladder of success.

The college received a Labor Department grant to expand this exciting program in 2014. Aviation students spend one-third of their time in class, and the rest gaining hands-on experience with Boeing 727s to better prepare them for real-world applications.

Ashley Rodriguez is a PCC graduate who found employment shortly after graduating.

“I knew I wanted a career, not just a job. And this program offered me just that.” -Ashley Rodriguez

In fact, she had multiple offers to choose from on her graduation day. A former marine and mother of a 3-year-old, Ashley was ready to find her path when she returned from deployment and moved back to her native Tucson. After realizing her dream of working in aviation during her time in Iraq, she found Pima’s Aviation Technical Center. Upon graduating in February 2014, she took an aviation mechanic job with local employer Bombardier.

To date, a total of 256 TAACCCT grantees representing a broad cross-section of the nation’s community colleges have updated and improved their training infrastructure, and are developing thousands of new programs of study. They already have produced or revised more than 2,500 new programs of study at their colleges and participants like Ashley have earned about 160,000 credentials.

America’s economic growth has always depended on the skills and ingenuity of its workforce. With new tools at our disposal, the department is preparing to help millions more Americans carve out a place for themselves and their families in the 21st-century economy.

Learn more about starting or finding an apprenticeship at, and explore more resources for job training and education at

This post is part of our “Working for You” series, highlighting how the Department of Labor, and the efforts of the Obama administration, are helping hardworking Americans succeed. View them all at

Working For You

A look back at efforts for working Americans at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Egan Reich

Written by

Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Department of Labor

Working For You

A look back at efforts for working Americans at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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