Apprenticeships could solve labor shortage with pathway to high-skilled trades jobs

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke with Local 10′s Christina Vazquez Friday and said his department’s apprenticeship program “is an opportunity for a pathway into good careers.” (WPLG)

The word “apprenticeship” may feel a bit yesteryear, but the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) believes helping provide federal funds to match job seekers to skilled trades could be one way to get Americans back to work.


Labor Secretary Marty Walsh spoke with Local 10′s Christina Vazquez Friday morning about the DOL’s apprenticeship program, which funds education and job training.

According to federal workload data, the top occupations for fiscal year 2020 included electrician, carpenter, construction craft laborer and plumber. It comes during a pandemic-era boom in home improvement projects and a competitive housing market.

“You are getting paid while you are learning on the job,” Walsh said. “It really is an opportunity for a pathway into good careers.”

Walsh said they are also creating apprenticeship programs in other areas.

“Carpentry, electrician, plumbing -- that is what historically apprenticeship has been, but we are going to be looking at emerging industry, we are going to be looking at healthcare, technology and other areas that can really open up doors to people to get good, strong careers,” he said.


The DOL says 94% of “apprentices who complete an apprenticeship program retain employment, with an average annual salary of $70,000.”


Peter Ricci, FAU Hospitality & Tourism Management Program Director, told Vazquez that many workers used the time they were out of a job to reevaluate their priorities. He has dubbed it a sort of “awakening,” with some service workers in hospitality and retail deciding to leave those industries all together in pursuit of better paying jobs or career paths that allow for remote work, flexible hours, and/or better benefits to include paid sick leave.

“A lot of people have told us they have moved into call centers, they have moved into gig work, they’ve moved into remote work that they can do from home,” Ricci explained. “So they have been absorbed to a tremendous extent that I could have never imagined.”

This, he believes, is one of the reasons why staffing shortages persist statewide even after Florida ended enhanced federal unemployment benefits.

Related Link: From airports to retail to hospitality, jobs need filling

“When they were saying everyone will be back to work, they are lazy, they are waiting, they are getting free aid, I knew that was not going to be the case, and sure enough, all those programs went away and we had a slight bump in return, but we didn’t have anything what we needed to,” Ricci said. “People were not just sitting home because they wanted to, they were sitting home looking for something different.”

Walsh believes the new apprenticeship program meets this pandemic-era labor market moment by helping provide federal funding to workers looking to change industries.

“That is the intention and we have to meet that moment. I think it is important for us to train people and skill them up to be able to get into these new emerging industries, whether it is manufacturing, or IT, or cybersecurity, different areas of employment,” he said.


Related Link: Without access to childcare, mothers struggle to rejoin labor force

When the pandemic started triggering mass layoffs, analysts began to dub the depression-era unemployment levels as a “Shecession,” because women were facing the brunt of the job losses.

Unlike the Great Recession that hit male-dominated industries like housing, construction and manufacturing, COVID-related layoffs were concentrated in sectors with higher women representation, like restaurants, hotels and hospitality.

When many jobs did come back during economic recovery, the inability for essential worker salaries to absorb the cost of full-time childcare amidst on-going school closures made it difficult for many women to return to work, explained Grant Thornton Chief Economist Diane Swonk.

“You have a lot of workers who don’t have a choice,” she said. “They can’t rejoin the labor force.”

Walsh said access to affordable child care continues to be an issue.

“About 4 million women left the workforce,” Walsh said. “We still have about 2 million of those women not in the workforce. That is an economic impact to our economy, so what we have to do is make sure we are creating opportunities and pathways back into the workforce for women.”

The Department of Labor Women’s Bureau recently awarded a $750,000 grant to a South Florida project to support a construction apprenticeship program for 50 women. The project aimed to serve underserved communities to include Miami’s Liberty City and Little Haiti neighborhoods.

Walsh added that President Biden’s “Build Back Better” platform aims to address the issue of affordable child care.

Related Link: Biden promotes new ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, offers Haiti help


1. National Dislocated Worker Grants: COVID-19 Disaster Recovery Emergency Funding.

“The National Dislocated Worker Grant Program Guidance transmitted by Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 12-19 - Change 1 explains how eligible applicants can apply for DWGs, including emergency funding requests. The U.S. Department of Labor accepts applications on a rolling basis, which are then reviewed in the order received.”

Florida was allotted $40 million:

2. Grants Awarded:

3. Apprenticeship trends and data:

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."