On the day after Labor Day, Congressmen Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) focused their efforts on jobs. They joined area labor leaders at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 654 in Boothwyn to call on Congress to pass legislation the lawmakers authored that will make apprenticeships more affordable for individuals seeking a skills-based education. They are making a bipartisan push for passage of H.R. 3395, the 529 Opening Paths to Invest in Our Nation’s Students (OPTIONS) Act, which enables individuals enrolled in apprenticeship programs to fund tools and equipment for the program out of a “529” college savings plan. The bill would expand the use of a 529 plan to include apprenticeship programs in addition to regular four-year colleges. The proposed legislation also includes costs associated with books, laptops, tools, childcare, and obtaining an industry certification.

“We believe it should be just as valuable to put money aside to prepare to enter the skilled workforce by virtue as apprenticeship,” said Meehan. “Today, we are in a good space. There is a demand for skilled labor that is able to do the job that is necessary. The training that goes into it is sophisticated but it enables us to have the guarantee of a job well done and on-time.”

Norcross went through an apprenticeship program and is the only electrician serving on the U.S. Congress. He stressed the need for electricians, plumbers and computer programmers.

“We understand looking into the future the only measure of success isn’t if you went to college but at the end there is a job and a career,” said Norcross.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports the 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2009 was 59 percent. That is, 59 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree by 2015 at the same institution where they started in 2009. The 6-year graduation rate was 59 percent at public institutions, 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions,

Kevin Tighe, Executive Director, Labor Relations and Workforce Development for National Electrical Contractors Association said the graduation rate for apprenticeship programs was in the upper-eighty percent. Also, NECA is facing a dire worker shortage and skills gap. With an average age of 53-years-old, the apprentice programs are only keeping up with industry attrition and would need to grow by 400 percent to meet the current labor demands.

Tighe touted a career as electrician – with an average starting salary of $48,000, pension and insurance – as a “tremendous future for our youth.”

“That’s why this legislation is so important,” said Tighe. “It attempts to create a level parity between our apprenticeships and the four-year colleges. “

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