Workforce Development

the situation

The problem America faces is not that there are a lack of jobs, but that employers can’t find the skills that they need in our workforce. We have millions of Americans that are unemployed or underemployed. At the same time, we have employers around the country looking to staff millions of good middle-class jobs in growing fields like advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology, transportation and logistics, construction management, etc.

If we want to pull our fellow citizens out of low-level service sector jobs and back into the middle class, we need only provide them with the proper skill set. The jobs are out there waiting for them.

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policy solutions


Apprenticeship programs are perhaps the best means of not only creating a skilled workforce, but creating more certainty in retaining employees. This is especially pertinent when it comes to hiring millennials who are known for changing jobs routinely. Dedicating two years to an apprenticeship program is likely to forge closer ties between the employee and the employer. This will often result in greater employee retention even among younger hires.

Currently, a number of states provide apprenticeship tax credits but a nationwide program is really what is needed. The average tax credit offered by state programs is around $3,000 per apprenticeship and in 2015 there were approximately 448,000 apprentices in the US. We could create millions of new middle class job opportunities by making it more attractive for companies to hire apprentices using a national apprenticeship tax credit between $1,500 and $3,000. These apprenticeships would not only be in advanced manufacturing, but in information technology, healthcare, transportation, even banking.  

Nationwide, 87% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs and the average starting wage is above $50,000. These are middle class jobs! We should be encouraging these apprenticeship programs through appropriate tax credits.


America must bring back vocational programs with assistance and input from the private sector. For decades, American schools utilized vocational programs to give students job ready skills. Ironically, today it is the jobs that are ready but not the students.

Credit  Drew Coffman

Our national emphasis on four-year college programs have distorted the realities of our economy. Today, college graduates encumbered by massive debt are forced to move back in with their parents while twenty-year-old manufacturing technicians and machinists are making over $40,000 with little or no debt. The stigma of vocational programs must be undone and local industries must work with regional school boards and workforce boards to reinstitute vocational programs where they are needed and where jobs are left wanting for the skills that the schools cannot provide.

Private partners are essential to this endeavor and their commitment should be evidenced through in-kind contributions to schools, providing students access to facilities for hands-on training, providing matching funds, or utilizing earn-and-learn apprenticeship programs. The Department of Education can use federal funds to assist in this national expansion of vocational programs, but the most important players will be at the local level.

Private industry must identify a need for a specific skillset and they must work with local education boards and workforce development boards to create a program which benefits both the students and the employers. Different regions will have different needs depending on the needs of local industries. Therefore, vocational programs will be regionally specific. Even so, credentials issued through these vocational programs must be transportable. In other words, say a private company works with a local school to create a CNC machinist program. Completing that program should not tether a student to that one company alone. The credentials that the student earns in the program should be recognized by similar companies across the country.

Obviously, the intent of the public-private vocational partnership is to create a direct pipeline from the school to the employer in order to provide good jobs to students and to provide the private employer with the employees that they need. But the training should result in credentials which will be recognized and accepted by other companies offering similar jobs.