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California renews emphasis on apprenticeships as high-paying college alternative

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(The Center Square) – The California Department of Education hosted an apprenticeship summit with trades and political leaders to emphasize the benefits, demand, and pay of skilled labor as a college alternative. Despite high unemployment, the state faces a major skilled labor shortage, exacerbating the cost of living as key workers remain in short supply.

According to the United States Department of Labor, 90% of apprentices who complete apprenticeship programs at a company retain employment at an average salary of $80,000, or double California’s median income. In a typical apprenticeship program, students’ wages increase as their proficiency increases, leading to a certification in a skill and job placement.

“I often hear about the valuable opportunities in the trades and the in-demand, high-paying jobs that are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates,” California State Superintendent Tony Thurmond said in a statement. “As we prepare our students — especially graduating seniors — to begin the next stages of their academic and professional journeys, I want to ensure that we connect them with the options provided by apprenticeship programs and provide a powerful on-ramp to high-wage careers in local industry.”

With half of college graduates underemployed 10 years after graduation — that is, not working in jobs that require bachelor’s degrees — and the average public university student borrowing $32,637 to attain a bachelor’s degree, many young Americans are looking for more cost-effective alternatives to start their careers in higher-paying fields.

As California faces a 4.5 million home housing shortage and median home prices exceeding $850,000, skilled labor for construction remains in short supply, making it more difficult and expensive to build housing. By developing a larger skilled labor pool, the state could more rapidly build the housing and water and energy infrastructure it needs to bring down the state’s high cost of living.

Last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom renamed the “Governor’s Council for Postsecondary Education” to the “Governor’s Council for Career Education” to focus on the state’s renewed emphasis on career pathways, and ordered the creation of a Master Plan on Career Education. He also ordered the California Human Resources Department to evaluate whether a college degree is needed for a particular position whenever its classification is reviewed, leading to the cutting of degree requirements for 169 state jobs thus far.

At 5.4%, California currently has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.