By Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Jack Walsh
As legislative labor leaders and proud union members, we know there are paths to a prosperous career that don’t always involve a traditional college degree. We have seen more and more in recent years how skilled trades can provide lucrative and rewarding careers without the need to take on astronomical student loan debt. After all, both of us of us bought homes, raised our families, and built successful lives after learning a skilled trade and built our families and livelihoods on these careers.
While we continue to support expanding access to college degrees, we also have pushed to increase the availability and accessibility of skilled trade training programs across Delaware as chairs of the House and Senate Labor Committees. Being able to compete in today’s work world and tomorrow’s global economy requires having a workforce that is well-trained, efficient, and effective. One of those ways we get there is through strong apprenticeship programs.
This week, we are celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, which recognizes the success and value of apprenticeships and their vital role in rebuilding our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, and supporting underserved communities.
Apprenticeships are an extremely valuable tool for people looking to enter a trade. They vary in length, but they all provide workers with both classroom instruction and hands-on mentoring. Most importantly, apprentices earn while they learn and often graduate debt-free with a job waiting for them. More than 1,400 Delawareans are registered apprentices and are experiencing this firsthand.
Consider that 93% of apprentices retain employment after completing a registered apprenticeship program, and that the average starting wage after completion of an apprenticeship program is $77,000. Those completing an apprenticeship program earn $300,000 more during their careers than peers who don’t.
In our experiences as career trades workers, we have seen firsthand the benefit of apprenticeships in passing on knowledge and skills, and preparing the next generation of workers to advance our professions. There is an understated value in that personal, in-the-field training and pride that’s instilled through an apprenticeship.
We know apprenticeships work, because more industries are using these programs to train new workers. Apprenticeships are no longer just for building and construction jobs, but also for medical professions, aviation technician, information technology, wastewater, marine and automotive mechanics, and many other fields.
In Delaware, we have supported numerous steps in recent years to strengthen training programs, including Elevate Delaware, which provides financial support to help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses for people entering work training programs. This program provides students up to $10,000 for approved non-credit certificate programs and allows the Delaware Department of Labor to provide any unspent amount for other expenses.
It is our hope that Elevate Delaware will encourage access to these critical training programs to prepare the next generation of trades workers.
Another recent law we passed requires prevailing wage projects to include craft training for apprentices and journeymen. And we are continuing to support workforce training programs and other efforts that will promote apprenticeships in typically underserved communities throughout the state.
The Delaware Department of Labor views pre-apprenticeship and youth apprenticeship as vital tools to prepare the next generation of skilled workers. These programs provide work readiness and career exposure to those who typically would not have applied or qualified for an apprenticeship position. By focusing on building interest in these apprenticeship programs early, we can strengthen the good work occurring in high schools and have a clear, smooth transition into registered apprenticeships as a post-secondary option.
These pre-apprenticeship programs can help reach nontraditional trades persons and diverse populations. DOL has worked with our vo-tech schools to begin pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship programs for English Language Learners, which allows them to learn a trade while also learning English. The Department is also implementing several initiatives to increase women in skilled trade professions.
As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we will continue our work to establish and strengthen programs that provide training in skilled professions so all Delawareans have better opportunities, rewarding careers and livable wages.
Rep. Ed Osienski chairs the House Labor Committee and is a retired member of the Sprinkler Fitters UA Local 669. State Sen. Jack Walsh chairs the Senate Labor Committee and a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 313.