Apprenticeships are a rare opportunity for bipartisanship in Congress

There isn't a lot Congress can agree on, but it seems both Democrats and Republicans can come together in supporting apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships are a rare opportunity for bipartisanship in Congress
Scripps News

Nolan Eby didn't go to college — and he likes it that way. Eby is an apprentice at the Carpenters Training Institute outside Omaha, Nebraska, and is one of a growing number of Americans who have decided to skip college in favor of high-paying apprenticeship opportunities. 

"I didn't want to go to a four-year and take a loan out," Eby said.

Instead of college, Eby chose an apprenticeship program sponsored by his local carpenters union.

Instead of going into debt to get a degree, Eby is only learning things applicable to his career goal of becoming a construction manager. 

The biggest bonus? He gets health care paid for and a paycheck while he learns. Learning is mostly done while out on a job site. 

"I make $25 an hour right now," Eby said. 

Some colleges are now offering high school diplomas

Some colleges are now offering high school diplomas

Some colleges, including one in Colorado, are helping students that dropped out of school get back on track.


Expanding opportunity

Expanding apprenticeships nationwide is increasingly becoming an area of bipartisanship agreement among Democrats and Republicans, with more and more lawmakers recognizing that a college degree may not be the best choice for everyone.

In Pennsylvania, Utah and Maryland, college degree requirements have been dropped for most state government jobs.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, 65,000 state positions are now open to people based on their ability and work experience. A college degree is no longer needed.

"I do see a change," said Brittini Kircher, the training director at the Carpenters Training Institute.

Kircher says her program focuses on blue-collar jobs like carpentry and millwrights, but, thanks to virtual reality, other apprenticeship opportunities are emerging in fields like education and health care.

"They are given careers with high wages and no debt," Kircher said. 

On Capitol Hill, expanding apprenticeship opportunities and funding is gaining bipartisan traction, which is rare for a divided Congress.

Kircher said she would like to see apprenticeships funded in similar ways the government funds colleges. 

For instance, her program is exclusively paid for by the local union, which means there are limited resources for anything else.

Even getting food or money for a graduation ceremony can be a challenge. 

"It's hard to self-fund all of this," Kircher said.