The Hamilton Project at Brookings

Section 3: Building Skills

  Proposal Title, Author(s) Proposal Description
7. Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in the United States, Robert I. Lerman Proposes a series of targeted federal and state-level initiatives to expand access to registered apprenticeship programs by creating marketing initiatives, building on existing youth apprenticeship programs, extending the use of federal subsidies, and designating occupational standards.
8. Improving Employment Outcomes for Disadvantaged Students, Harry J. Holzer Proposes the creation of financial incentives for public colleges to offer classes in high-return fields and for employers to offer more training to their employees.
9. Providing Disadvantaged Workers with Skills to Succeed in the Labor Market, Sheena McConnell, Irma Perez-Johnson, and Jillian Berk Proposes increased funding for training programs targeted to low-skill workers through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult program and a series of reforms to training programming offered by state and local workforce boards.
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Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities in the United States
Robert I. Lerman (American University and Urban Institute)

Reducing inequality and expanding opportunity are central challenges increasingly acknowledged by leaders across the political spectrum. Policymakers generally agree that one key solution is to prepare young people and adults with the skills to earn a good income. Unlike other advanced countries, however, reform proposals in the United States have typically included little or nothing about apprenticeship — a highly cost-effective mechanism for developing workplace skills and for reducing youth unemployment. However, interest in apprenticeship models is building in the United States, partly because of the recent successes of Britain and South Carolina in stimulating major expansions of apprenticeship training. A robust apprenticeship system is especially attractive because of its potential to reduce youth unemployment, improve the transition from school to career, upgrade skills, raise wages of young adults, strengthen a young worker's identity, increase U.S. productivity, achieve positive returns for employers and workers, and use limited federal resources more effectively.

Developing a more robust support system for apprenticeship programs requires action at various levels of government. This proposal consists of a series of targeted initiatives that rely on both state and federal support.


Improving Employment Outcomes for Disadvantaged Students
Harry J. Holzer (Georgetown University and American Institutes for Research)

Improving the skills and earnings potential of poor youth and adults should remain a top priority for state and federal policymakers. Poorer people lag behind their more affluent peers in both postsecondary educational attainment and earnings, and raising both would contribute strongly to reducing poverty among current and future generations. Tapping the full potential of public colleges to provide a leg up to those who need the educational push could go a long way toward alleviating poverty.

But the dropout rate among low-income youth and adults in college remains extremely high; even among those who complete certificates or degrees, many choose fields of study that are not well compensated in the labor market. These outcomes hurt the poor, and weaken the impacts of large national investments in higher education.

My proposal calls on states to partially base college funding on graduates’ reported wages five years following graduation and, where appropriate, on the colleges' provision of courses that are especially important to the local economy. I also propose that states experiment with generating financial incentives for employers to engage more with colleges in sectoral efforts, and propose that employers expand their own efforts to train and hire more workers.


Providing Disadvantaged Workers with Skills to Succeed in the Labor Market
Sheena McConnell, Irma Perez-Johnson, & Jillian Berk (Mathematica Policy Research)

Millions of Americans cannot obtain jobs that pay enough to lift them out of poverty. For many, the principal barrier to obtaining these good jobs is their lack of specialized occupational skills increasingly sought by employers. Research has shown that vocational training can be effective in boosting the earnings of disadvantaged adult workers. This proposal argues that, by helping workers acquire the skills that employers demand, vocational training could be wielded as an effective anti-poverty tool.

This paper outlines why Congress should increase funding for vocational training for disadvantaged adult workers. Specifically, we argue that Congress should increase funding for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult program.

We also argue, however, that Congress, and the state and local workforce investment boards that administer the WIA Adult program, should explore ways to improve the vocational training that is available to adult disadvantaged workers.