Driving home from my Tuesday night pool league last night, I found myself listening to US Senators Cory Booker and Tim Scott on the "Tavis Smiley" show, as they explained their legislative agendae as the only African-American members currently sitting in that august governmental bodies. One very interesting item that came up in the conversation is S.2234 the LEAP Act (Leveraging and Energizing America's Apprenticeship Programs), wherein I learned that South Carolina (Tim Scott's home state) currently leads the nation in creating and supporting such programs.
The text of the LEAP act is a mere two pages long.
As envisioned in the LEAP act, apprenticeship programs may be made available to young people in an age range from 18 to 29, where they have the opportunity to "earn while they learn," by combining a paying job with extensive on-the-job training. As it happens, such programs are quite popular and widely-used in the European union (especially in Germany and Scandinavia) and also in Canada, where they help those who graduate from high school qualify for what one of the senators referred to in the program as "middle class jobs" without necessarily requiring them to earn a college degree before entering the workforce.
Because one key area in such current apprenticeships as have been defined in South Carolina includes information technology (plus manufacturing and healthcare as well), it occurs to me that this could be a great way to train up separating service people returning from overseas duty and the US civilian workforce. In fact, it could also provide an even better way to a safe exit for individuals stuck in the lower end of the economic spectrum from their current circumstances in a way that demands neither turning to crime nor grabbing the brass ring of success at professional sports to move on up the economic ladder.
The linchpin is a two year tax credit of $1,500 a year to business that hire individuals into apprenticeship programs under 25 years of age for up to two years, with $1,000 a year for those aged 25 - 29. Along with hands-on duties helping or shadowing practitioners on the job for pay, such individuals also get access to classroom training, hands-on labs and exercises, and more.
The South Carolina program after which the LEAP bill is modelled has already trained over 11,000 individuals, with 670 companies participating to hire and train them up. The state offers up to four years of tax credit of $1,000 for qualified apprentices who stay in the program for that long, with an emphasis on high-tech manufacturing positions (see this 2014 NPR story for more info).
I think this is a great initiative and presents a realistic pathway for academically challenged or disadvantaged workers to find their way into meaningful lifetime employment. I'd love to see the age cap lifted, so that older workers from fading or failing industries could use a program like this to get retrained into newer fields with longer lifetimes and better opportunities still ahead. Ideally, for IT workers, this kind of offering could combine with key entry- to mid-level certifications (CCNA/CCNP, MCSA/MCSE, and so forth) to really give those workers a leg up on their new skills and knowledge.