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National Apprenticeship Act of 2020

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 19, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMUCKER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the ranking member for yielding. And I agree. I wish we could have come here with a bill that we all can agree upon. Unfortunately, instead, I have to say I oppose the bill that we are discussing today.

This is particularly important because, over the past few months, we see the impact that the pandemic has had on our workforce. All of us standing here today are fortunate to be in positions where we can learn to do our jobs differently. We can do them differently whether it is remotely, or we can implement new safety measures, or some combination of the two.

But there are millions of Americans who don't get that opportunity to work remotely. Instead, they have lost their jobs.

We all know that the workforce will not look the same once this public health emergency is over. So it is more imperative than ever that we take actions to help job-displaced individuals learn new skill sets to be competitive and to fit these new jobs that will be available.

Expanding apprenticeships is one tool to help accomplish that goal. The bill before us today presented a real opportunity for Congress to make smart reforms to our apprenticeship system when it is needed most, but unfortunately, H.R. 8294 comes up short in achieving this.

Now, I will say as well that throughout my past 2 years serving as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment, I have enjoyed working alongside Chairwoman Davis.

As we looked at other models, we studied both U.S. models and international models of apprenticeship as well. We held hearings and received testimony from officials from countries like Switzerland, Australia, Germany, and Belgium.

What struck us most was that each of those nations has apprenticeships in nearly every single industry, not just a few like we have here in the U.S. From banking to positions in the healthcare industry, these nations have managed to find a structure, a system that can respond to labor market demands while preparing the next generation with valuable skill sets.

While we do agree in a bipartisan fashion that these are models that we could learn from as we reauthorize our own system, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have chosen to steamroll over proposals for flexibility and double down on a registered system that places much of the decisionmaking authority into the hands of labor unions.

The majority leader was correct when he said just a little while ago on the floor that that is the fundamental difference of the two sides on this bill.

This bill as written strips the Department of Labor's authority to pursue more flexible partnerships for work-based learning models. This legislation would prevent the Department from moving forward with the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, or IRAPs.

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Mr. SMUCKER. Mr. Speaker, even though IRAPs are in the early stages, we are already seeing many new stakeholders getting involved. The program is showing tremendous promise, and we are finally starting to grow apprenticeship programs in industries that have never used them before.

We believe in allowing businesses to make the decisions they believe are best for their employees to learn the skills that they need. That is the fundamental difference in the approach to apprenticeship.

I will be offering an amendment that will allow the law to reach the full potential of apprenticeships to help fill in-demand jobs by addressing some of these issues.

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