U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (second from right) tours the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute at Metro State University with Gov. Jared Polis (second from left), Sen. Michael Bennet (third from left) and Sen. John Hickenlooper on Feb. 23, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh used his visit to Colorado on Wednesday to announce $113 million in federal funding for apprenticeship programs across the country, aimed at growing a workforce hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You think about the opportunities we have here in this country to do some amazing things — these grants are going to be very powerful tools, in working with the partnerships we see here today,” Walsh said following a roundtable discussion about apprenticeships with Gov. Jared Polis, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and local college students at Metropolitan State University’s Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute.
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The money, dubbed the Apprenticeships Building America Grant Opportunity, will go towards expanding and diversifying registered apprenticeship programs. It includes $50 million specifically set aside for projects that focus on equity within registered apprenticeship programs, as well as funding for local governments to grow programs in their communities.
Eligible applicants include nonprofits, labor organizations, colleges and county governments.
“The future of education is also the future of the job force in America,” Walsh said. He said he wants people to get out of the mindset that apprenticeships are only for construction and labor jobs, and he said an expanded offering of registered apprenticeships will strengthen the workforce.
A registered apprenticeship program is one recognized by the Department of Labor. Walsh commended Colorado’s growth in the apprenticeship space as the state works to become a state apprenticeship agency and have the power to register and oversee programs.
The leaders heard from five students about their own apprenticeship experiences, how it helped them decide a career and the importance of earning money while pursuing their degrees. They included a construction management student who plans to attend graduate school, an early childhood education student who also works as a behavioral therapist, and an advanced manufacturing student already set up with a job at Lockheed Martin post graduation.
The new funding comes as professionals reevaluate their workplace priorities, many opting to leave or switch careers during the so-called Great Resignation. Walsh said the phenomenon has made him think about the future of the workforce and how to encourage a qualified pool of candidates in all industries.
“Most of people have left their jobs for a couple reasons: lack of child care, concern about the virus and lack of real opportunity to earn a living wage for their family,” Walsh said. “This $113 million allows those communities to find people that have left their work and are looking for a better opportunity for themselves and their family and connect them to programs.”
Finalists for the funding will receive between $1 million and $8 million each.
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