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Labor Secretary Praises
IBEW Apprenticeships


May 14, 2014

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Labor Secretary Tom Perez praised IBEW apprenticeship programs as paths to good careers on CNBC recently.
Photo: Labor Department

For years, high-school students have been told there is one path to success – a four-year college degree.


But with declining job prospects for college grads – twice as many college grads are in minimum wage jobs as five years ago– and skyrocketing higher education debt, many policymakers and students are taking a second look at blue-collar apprenticeships programs.

One of them is Labor Secretary Tom Perez. He recently told CNBC:

There's a bright future in America for people who work with their hands. I talk to employers all over the country who say we need more people in the skilled trades. That's why apprentices are so important … when I talk to parents and say there's a bright future for people who work with their hands, they recoil and say my kid's going to college. This is a credential. When you become a member of the IBEW, you've got a remarkable set of skills, and community colleges are accepting those skills.

Union apprenticeships like the IBEW’s are based on a pay-as-you-learn model, with apprentices combining classroom instruction and on-the-job training, all while making a decent wage. At no time is an apprentice required to borrow money for training or education.

And the need for skilled construction workers is growing. As we wrote in the Electrical Worker last July:

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of electrician jobs will grow by 23 percent between now and 2020; McGraw-Hill Construction found that nearly half of all general contractors say they are worried about recruiting enough skilled tradesmen to meet the coming demand.

The message that Perez hopes to convey is that apprenticeship program are an attractive alternative to college – one that opens up good-paying careers and a lifetime of skills building.

In April, the Labor Department announced more than $600 million in new funding for states to develop and expand apprenticeship programs – with a focus on industries and jobs the economy needs to grow.

IBEW President Edwin D. Hill and PG&E Corp. CEO Tony Earley wrote in the Hill newspaper:

While a four-year college degree is a worthy goal, apprenticeships and targeted training should also have their place in the national vision as pathways to spur growth and provide a viable career path for millions of our young people. The White House got it right with their new investment in skills training. The American people will be the winners.