Teaming Up to Help our Workforce Succeed


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Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker tour the cyber security training center at Montgomery College in Maryland on Dec. 10, 2014.
Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker tour the cyber security training center at Montgomery College in Maryland on Dec. 10, 2014. The program, funded by a Labor Department grant, partnerships with the local workforce investment board and area cybersecurity companies to develop a high-tech training program that’s feeding local workers into booming computer security jobs in the DC metropolitan area.

Blog post by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez

The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Labor might seem like odd bedfellows: one serves as the voice of business in government, and the other as the voice of the American worker. However, as the Secretaries of those two federal agencies for nearly four years, we have found common ground on a number of issues, none more important than ensuring every American has the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century economy. 

In fact, supporting our workers through job-driven training has been a priority of our entire Administration over the last eight years. One way we have sought to ensure that American workers can thrive in in-demand jobs is by promoting apprenticeships as a pathway to employment.

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama set the goal of doubling the number of apprenticeships in the U.S. to 750,000 by the end of 2018. Since then, we have solicited commitments from companies to start or expand apprenticeships across a range of industries, from information technology and insurance to health care and advanced manufacturing.

Why? Apprenticeships are one of the most effective ways for young people and employees to simultaneously work and learn while developing skills that can launch a career.  Research shows that 91 percent of those who complete an apprenticeship program find employment, and that their average wages are more than $60,000 per year. With more than half a million active apprentices nationwide, we are on track to meet President Obama’s challenge.

New research recently released by the U.S. Department of Commerce makes an even more compelling case for apprenticeships. The report examines 13 companies and intermediaries that are utilizing apprenticeships, from contract precision manufacturer Oberg Industries in Freeport, Pennsylvania to Blue Cross Blue Shield in South Carolina to CVS Health across multiple states. Not only did these companies use apprenticeships to fill jobs that had remained empty, they developed an even more productive and flexible workforce, reduced employee turnover, and lowered recruiting costs. The companies built a workforce ready to embrace innovation that tomorrow’s technological advances will bring. 

Apprenticeships not only fill jobs, but also help companies develop talent to achieve larger strategic objectives. We see this firsthand with foreign multinational companies making new investments across the United States. Take Germany and Switzerland, the two countries with whom we have signed apprenticeship joint declarations to promote apprenticeships. Together, German and Swiss multinationals support more than one million jobs in the United States. Many of their leading companies, like Germany’s Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems and Switzerland’s Zurich Insurance Group, are creating new apprenticeship programs, which strengthen their workforces and deepen their ties to their local U.S. communities.    

In today’s global economy, capital is more mobile than ever. Companies can choose to invest anywhere. And every country is competing in a global race to attract investment. In order to thrive in the 21st century economy, the United States must have a 21st century workforce.

We know apprenticeships are crucial to creating economic growth in our communities, cities, and country. If we want our companies and workers to succeed, the United States must continue to create and diversify apprenticeship opportunities. We hope those who lead the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor in the next Administration will continue to closely coordinate and ensure apprenticeships remain at the top of the agenda.

Penny Pritzker is the 38th United States Secretary of Commerce. Tom Perez is the 26th United States Secretary of Labor.

This blog is a part of a monthly series highlighting the contributions of the Commerce Department’s agencies to the Open for Business Agenda. This month’s focus is on Skills for Business.

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Last updated: 2016-12-09 10:30

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