Building upon best practices in apprenticeship programs internationally and from around the country, the following are policy recommendations for New Jersey to adopt to lead the country in building out a lifelong learning apprenticeship model. In line with other states around the nation, these recommendations include tax credits for apprenticeship programs and tuition support for apprentice training. Based on research into best practices in workforce development and education, these recommendations also include policies to support the development and expansion of apprenticeship programs, particularly in high growth industries.
New Jersey should expand the use of apprenticeships that are federally-registered, so that the programs could potentially receive complementary support from both the federal and state government, enabling more businesses to afford the start-up costs of an apprenticeship program—ultimately opening the doors to additional future apprentices in New Jersey.
- Develop a Statewide Plan to Diversify Apprenticeships: Although individual apprenticeship sponsors and businesses are required under federal law to implement affirmative action programs and commit to equal opportunity throughout their apprenticeship program, the State of New Jersey should develop its own affirmative action plan to increase diversity in its apprenticeship programs. This plan could be developed in partnership between New Jersey’s Office of Apprenticeships, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Department of Education, and the State’s Chief Diversity Officer, consulting with and receiving input from the Governor, the Legislature, community and advocacy groups that work with and on behalf of impacted communities of people, and the public. Ideally, the plan should provide industry-specific recommendations for increasing diversity—particularly by gender, race, and disability status—and should be tailored to the industries, businesses, colleges and universities, workforce development providers, and resident population of New Jersey.
- Create a Statewide Youth Apprenticeship Pilot Program in New Jersey High Schools and State Colleges: In the other countries with the most developed and successful national apprenticeship programs, students are given the opportunity to begin an apprenticeship program during their teenage years. While the United States used to have more trade instruction during middle and high school, those programs were significantly cutback as graduation requirements were increased and a college preparation track was emphasized. Unfortunately, this inadvertently resulted in the elevation of a college track over vocational training, without empowering students to learn about the skilled trades and other alternatives to college.
New Jersey could pioneer a statewide apprenticeship program in high schools and state colleges, perhaps building upon the existing curriculum of high schools and colleges that specialize or have large math, science, and computing programs in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education. Building off lessons learned from other nations, this pilot program should provide students with intensive career counseling on various career paths and options in middle school, high school, and college. For high school students, it should provide them with the flexibility in their curriculum to either pursue their apprenticeship career field or college post-high school graduation.
It should also mandate that the participating employers pay the student-apprentices, including providing them with gradually increasing wages and an industry-recognized credential upon completion. This type of program would expand the opportunities available to young people, including students who are unable to afford to attend college or who want some work experience before entering college. Further, this type of program could incentivize additional employers to begin apprenticeship programs in New Jersey, since they would receive a dedicated number of apprentices annually, enabling the employers to recoup their upfront investment in training faster.
- Support the Development of Three Statewide Adult Apprenticeship Pilot Programs in South, Central, and North New Jersey in High Growth Industries: Like the rest of the country, most of New Jersey’s current apprenticeships are in the skilled trades. In order to provide state support to expand the industries using apprenticeships and advance economic development, the State should create a pilot grant program through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Talent Networks to fund three new adult apprenticeship programs in each part of the State (South, Central, North) in a high-growth industry, like (a) bio/pharmaceuticals and life sciences, (b) transportation, logistics, and distribution, (c) finance, (d) advanced manufacturing, (e) health care, and (f) energy. These grants could be awarded to any type of organizational sponsor of an apprenticeship program, including businesses, labor unions, colleges, workforce training providers, and non-profit organizations, but they should be awarded in three different high growth industries.
- Create a Pilot Pre-Apprenticeship Program for New Jersey: While New Jersey should prioritize getting people into apprenticeships, some people with limited or no work experience may need a pre-apprenticeship program that prepares them to succeed in what is essentially a full-time job (including the instruction). Thus, New Jersey should create a uniform, statewide pre-apprenticeship program that is based on the U.S. Department of Labor’s quality framework for pre-apprenticeship programs and best practices nationally on preparing people—especially people with barriers to employment—on how to navigate a job, including communicating, working with teams, and meeting employer expectations. This program should also provide one-on-one tutoring to ensure that program participants have basic literacy and math skills, and it should provide supportive services for participants as needed.
This program would receive referrals for participants from apprenticeship program directors around the state of applicants who they believe would benefit from this training prior to entering the apprenticeship program. This program should be developed in consultation with the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, as well as the Department of Education, and it should be entirely state-funded since most participants would be unable to afford tuition costs and they would not be receiving a salary during the pre-apprenticeship program.
- Tuition Fee Waiver for Apprenticeship Courses: In addition to on-the-job training, every apprentice must complete a course of instruction and earn an industry-recognized credential during their program. While it is best practice for employers to cover these educational costs for their apprentices, it is not a federal requirement. To ensure that the instruction-related costs of an apprenticeship do not pose a financial barrier to participation for residents, the State should provide a tuition fee waiver for residents earning below the state’s median annual income. Not only will this tuition fee waiver support the growth of apprenticeships in the state and foster economic mobility, it will also provide additional state support for the educational partners of an apprenticeship program—primarily community colleges and high-quality workforce training providers.
- Provide An Annual Appropriation for New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education (NJ PLACE): The NJ PLACE program was created to help facilitate agreements between “[s]tate agencies, employer organizations, labor organizations, schools, and two-year and four-year institutions of higher education to enter into agreements to provide college credit in connection with apprenticeship programs and permit the work of apprentices in those programs to be credited towards two-year and four-year college degrees.” In addition to enabling apprentices to transfer their program work into college credits, the NJ Place program is also intended to support the development of apprenticeship programs beyond the construction industry, and to link those programs to college degree programs.
The NJ PLACE program is designed to support the “Youth Transitions to Work Partnership Act” by connecting apprenticeship programs with high schools and colleges to enable successful transitions of high school graduates into apprenticeship and college degree programs. However, there is not a designated funding source for the NJ Place program to ensure that the State Employment and Training Commission of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development can provide the staff and resources necessary to facilitate these partnerships on an ongoing basis. New Jersey should provide for an annual appropriation to ensure the NJ PLACE program is adequately funded.
- Pass Stackable Credential Legislation: Building on state laws like the NJ PLACE Act, New Jersey should adopt a law requiring that community colleges and workforce training providers receiving government funds exclusively provide stackable credentials—certifications or course credits that can lead to a more advanced certification or a degree—that would be accepted by certificate or associate degree programs in the same field. Stackable credentials are a critical tool for people to advance in their career field over time, particularly while working full-time. They are also usually portable among employers within the same industry, which promotes career mobility for residents. Additional funds should also be appropriated to provide technical assistance and support to colleges and training providers to implement this stackable credential requirement.
- Tax Credits for Organizational Sponsors of Apprenticeship Programs to Partially Cover Start-Up Costs: Apprenticeship programs can involve significant start-up costs, including staff time, the renting or purchase of equipment and training space, the payment of education and training costs, and allocating a gradually-increasing salary for apprentices. In order to incentivize the establishment of new apprenticeship programs, the State should provide a $5,000 business tax credit for businesses and a $5,000 state grant to non-profits, labor unions, and other tax-exempt organizations that began a federally-registered apprenticeship program during the prior year. Since it is particularly important to expand the state’s workforce in high growth industries, businesses in the state’s high growth industries should receive an additional $5,000 business tax credit for beginning a federally-registered apprenticeship program—entitling them to a total tax credit of $10,000. These tax credits are larger than the typical $1,000 to $2,000 that most states offer, because New Jersey is a high-cost state and smaller tax credits do not offer as much of a meaningful incentive to incur the start-up and salary costs for a new apprenticeship program. The tax credits should either be gradually increased over time, or indexed to inflation, so that they remain strong incentives for businesses—particularly in high growth industries—to start federally-registered apprenticeship programs in New Jersey.
- Tax Credits for Businesses to Partially Cover Apprentice Wages: New Jersey should incentivize businesses to employ apprentices by providing tax credits to partially offset their wages. For each apprentice that a business employs for at least six months of the prior year, the business should receive a $1,000 tax credit against their New Jersey state taxes.
To encourage businesses to employ apprentices that face barriers to employment, the business should receive an additional $2,000 tax credit for each apprentice who was employed for at least six months of the prior year if they are a veteran; eligible to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)/Work First New Jersey and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); a dislocated or displaced worker; if they were previously long-term unemployed; or previously incarcerated. Further, to encourage businesses and industry associations to diversify their career field and implement a robust—and federally required—affirmative action plan for their apprenticeship program, the business should receive an additional $2,000 tax credit for each apprentice who is employed for at least six months of the prior year and who is under-represented in that career field based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or age. These tax credits are additive, meaning that a business could claim more than one tax credit for a single apprentice. For example, a technology-based business could claim a total of $5,000 in tax credits for a female coding apprentice who was previously long-term unemployed, since women are under-represented as coders in the technology industry. These tax credits should either be gradually increased over time, or indexed to inflation, so that they remain strong incentives for businesses to employ and train apprentices in New Jersey.
- Create a Pilot Transportation and Childcare Assistance Program for Apprentices: Multiple state and national studies of apprenticeship programs have consistently identified two main barriers to completion of apprenticeship programs: a lack of affordable and reliable transportation and a lack of affordable, high-quality childcare. While these two issues impact many apprentices, they disproportionately affect women, people of color, and low-income apprentices—and are often the reason that these groups of people decide to leave apprenticeship programs before completion. In order to retain more people who are traditionally under-represented in apprenticeship programs, the State should create a pilot transportation and childcare assistance program for federally-registered apprentices earning below the state median annual income. This program would provide direct financial assistance or vouchers to eligible participants, as well as help the apprentices identify existing transportation or childcare programs that they or their children may be eligible for, like pre-kindergarten programs. Further, this pilot program should include state support for apprentices to earn their drivers’ license or receive reinstatement of a previously-suspended drivers’ license, because a drivers’ license is often a requirement for participation in apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades.
- Create Employee Resource Groups and Peer-to-Peer Mentor Programs for Under-Represented Groups in Apprenticeship Programs: Women, people of color, and people with disabilities are significantly under-represented in apprenticeship programs, despite that these groups comprise a large and growing segment of the workforce. While it is necessary to increase recruitment of these groups to apprenticeship programs, it is crucial to ensure their retention and completion of the apprenticeship once they enter.
All participants in federally-registered apprenticeship programs receive a mentor, but it would be unlikely that most of these under-represented people receive a mentor who is also from an under-represented group. These under-represented apprentices may not know how to navigate their new workplace, or how to handle harassment or discrimination, ultimately leading many to leave their program before completion. Eventually, when there is a critical mass of women, people of color, and people with disabilities in apprenticeship programs, this mentoring will arise organically, and instances of harassment, discrimination, and alienation will naturally decrease.
However, in the intervening years, the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network and New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, working in partnership with New Jersey’s Office of Apprenticeships, New Jersey’s Department of Education, and the State’s Chief Diversity Officer, should begin a peer-to-peer statewide apprenticeship mentoring program for women, people of color, and people with disabilities. In addition, there should be an analysis of what groups of people are under-represented in which industries, and then the State should form employee resource groups for those apprentices. For instance, women are severely under-represented in the construction trades, so the State could form an employee resource group for women in the skilled trades.