A new bill is before Congress. It seeks to promote apprenticeships in the tech sector. That sounds like good news, but we're not so sure.
H.R. 3174: CHANCE in TECH Act - GovTrack.us
What the Bill Does
The bill directs the Secretary of Labor "to enter into contracts with industry intermediaries for purposes of promoting the development of and access to apprenticeships in the technology sector, and for other purposes."
If passed, the Act would allow the Department of Labor to work with tech companies, creating STEM-focused apprenticeships to bolster their workforce. The “industry intermediaries” award contracts to those tech companies, and then track the progress of apprentices within their programs.
Schools can compete for apprenticeship partners and awards. However, schools are not the focus of the Act. The tech companies and “industry intermediaries” are (though nonprofits can serve as “intermediaries”).
Sounds like a big boost for future STEM workers, right?
Not so fast. This Act may indeed bolster the number of STEM apprenticeships in the U.S. But given how the Act is written, much of its directive is open to manipulation.
Who are the Industry Intermediaries?
First, the "industry intermediaries." The bill's definition is open to interpretation. Now, that's not necessarily bad; it gives businesses & schools room to work. But it also creates the potential for yet another layer of bureaucracy between business and government.
While the Act's 2017 funding is limited by the Department of Labor Appropriations Act, subsequent years' funding is addressed with this line:
"There are authorized to be appropriated to carry out this Act such sums as may be necessary for fiscal year 2018 and each subsequent fiscal year."
In other words, they can increase the funding next year, and every year afterward. If it does go toward apprenticeship programs, it's a potent investment. However, that kind of open-ended funding directive is ripe for abuse.
Apprenticeships for Americans, or H-1Bs?
The Act does NOT exclude foreign workers here on H-1B visas from participating in the apprenticeship programs. Under Section 3(d), there are four statements for qualifying who can apply for apprenticeships. Three of them mandate a school or pre-apprenticeship enrollment.
However, the third statement is:
(C) Individuals aged 18 years or older who meet appropriate qualification standards;
That can be ANYONE. Even a non-citizen, here on an H-1B or other visa.
The Act is at Introduction stage now. If it passes, it could trigger a boost in STEM apprenticeship programs nationwide. Or it could add a costly new bureaucracy to our government that will live forever.
In the words of former President Reagan, “Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!”
While we'll be the first to cheer more STEM training, we’re a little skeptical of H.R. 3174.