On June 15, 2017, President Trump signed the executive order expanding apprenticeship programs and vocational training. This executive order calls on the Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, “to propose regulations that promote the development of apprenticeship programs by industry and trade groups, nonprofit organizations, unions, and joint labor-management organizations,” according to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). It also directs the departments of commerce and labor to “promote apprenticeships to business leaders in critical industry sectors, including manufacturing, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and health care.”
The National Apprentice Act, published by Congress in 1937 and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, saw that a national advisory committee would be in charge of researching and drafting regulations, establishing minimum standards for apprenticeship programs.
Now, the Apprenticeship Enhancement Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on Sept. 19, is looking to amend the National Apprenticeship Act, requiring the DOL’s apprenticeship agency to act on applications to create an apprenticeship program within 90 days. After 90 days, the applications are forwarded by the DOL, where they have 30 days to make a determination. The application is automatically approved once the 30 days have passed. So, what does that mean for the trades, specifically, the HVAC industry?
BACK TO THE TRADES
According to Make Lemonade, a free personal finance website, “There are more than 44 million [student loan] borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. The average student in the class of 2016 has $37,172 in student loan debt.”
As this statistic continues to rise, Trump is pushing for more high school graduates to look into the trades, not just a four-year university, when determining their future.
“In today’s rapidly changing economy, it is more important than ever to prepare workers to fill both existing and newly created jobs and to prepare workers for the jobs of the future,” he stated in his executive order. “Higher education, however, is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Furthermore, many colleges and universities fail to help students graduate with the skills necessary to secure high-paying jobs in today’s workforce. Far too many individuals find themselves with crushing student debt and no direct connection to jobs.”
While college graduation doesn’t guarantee a student a job or lucrative salary, apprenticeships are quite the opposite.
The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that skilled apprentices in the U.S. earn more money over a lifetime than the average college student. Additionally, the average starting wages for apprentices are $60,000 annually, without the student loan debt.
When asked how apprentice programs allow for new talent to be acquired in the HVAC industry, Todd Washam, director of industry and external relations, ACCA, made the comparison between an internship and an apprenticeship and why apprenticeships are more attractive.
“Internships are not always paid, but apprentice programs are,” he said. “Plus, other people are paying for you to go to school.”
The HVAC Workforce Development Foundation estimates that the U.S. will need 115,000 HVACR technicians by the year 2022. With demand that high, allowing more apprentice opportunities may lead to an increase in technicians.
Don Langston, president of Aire Rite Airconditioning & Refrigeration Inc., Huntington Beach, California, and ACCA chairman of the board, thinks this legislation would be a great opportunity for the industry to fill the job gap.
“This legislation could be a game changer for the HVAC and refrigeration industry, which is in desperate need of technical staff,” said Langston. “My goal, as chairman of ACCA, has been to help address the skills gap and workforce challenges that the industry is facing. I offer full support of ACCA as Sen. Wicker works to advance this legislation.”
Wicker is working to see that his legislation is accomplished, especially considering that apprenticeships allow American workers to have an affordable, hands-on educational experience.
“Apprenticeships are an important workforce development tool,” said Wicker. “These programs provide a unique opportunity for people to receive on-the-job training with experts in their field while they ‘earn as they learn.’ The purpose of my legislation is to streamline government bureaucracy, making it easier for employers to create an apprenticeship program or update an existing one. This should lead to giving American workers more options and opportunities to get an affordable education and a well-paying job.”
However, while this legislation could make an impact on the job gap, not everyone thinks this is the save-all solution.
HERE’S TO THE FUTURE
This legislation may be a major step forward for the industry, but it’s not the shiny saving grace just yet.
“This bill in and of itself will not solve the labor shortage we face in the industry,” said Jon Melchi, vice president, government and external affairs, Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). “From a perspective of what the federal government can do, this is a good start. Much of the lifting still needs to be done at the state and local level.”
Washam agreed, stating, “It’s not within this [legislation] alone. We still need full funding for tech programs. We need that done at the same time. If there is no funding, the agencies don’t have to do anything.”
Furthermore, by pushing for this legislation, it allows more people to become exposed to the career opportunities in the trades and learn why they’re at a level playing field with a college education.
“I believe this legislation means there is now a discussion that is gaining momentum about the importance of the trades and the significant role these jobs play in our economy,” said Melchi. “You can’t outsource the replacement of an air conditioner or a furnace. That can’t be said about most industries and jobs in the U.S.”