New national legislation could greatly expand the use of apprenticeships, a form of postsecondary education that’s popular in Europe.

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Apprenticeships are earning a fresh look from local and national politicians as a form of postsecondary education that can help adults learn skills for certain jobs while also getting paid.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced a bill that would give companies tax incentives for providing apprenticeships to prospective employees.

“We need to make this a national priority in a more aggressive way,” Cantwell said in a speech on the floor of the Senate. She said the bill, called the Apprenticeship and Job Training Act of 2017, could help fund 500,000 new apprenticeships over 10 years.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene is sponsoring an amendment to a separate bill that would boost apprenticeships for recipients of the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.


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The bill, Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act, was sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), and would direct $100 million in the TANF program to support workforce development pilot projects. DelBene’s amendment would require at least one of the pilot projects to be an apprenticeship program.

Also last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for more money and a bigger role for private companies to design apprenticeship programs. The order calls for roughly doubling, to $200 million, the taxpayer money spent on the programs under a grant system called ApprenticeshipUSA.

Apprenticeship programs are popular in Europe, where they allow people to work and learn on the job. They’re not as well-known in this country, however, and usually involve trade skills. Last year, a new, federally-funded apprenticeship program started in Seattle to help workers quickly learn tech skills by attending coding boot camps, then starting work at a company to complete their learning.

A report by the Washington workforce training board found that apprenticeships offer one of the best returns on taxpayer investment of any job program. The estimated lifetime net benefit to taxpayers, after accounting for public costs of delivering the programs, was more than $85,000 per participant, for a return of $23 for every public dollar invested.

Currently, companies have to register apprenticeships with the Labor Department, and adhere to government guidelines. Under Trump’s order, private industry would have more flexibility.

Some Democrats say they’re concerned that the Trump administration’s proposal will take oversight away from apprenticeships, in effect deregulating them.

“We get that he wants to put a little more money toward the grants, but they’re also trying to eliminate some of the oversight,” Cantwell said. “You don’t want a fly-by-night training program.”

Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.