Apprenticeship is gaining a renewed reputation as a promising workforce training strategy. Specifically, registered apprenticeship programs are paid training programs that aim to connect workers to well-paying jobs. Some of the most common industries associated with apprenticeships include construction, electrical services, plumbing, and even health care occupations. Registered apprenticeships are administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor issued grants intended to modernize apprenticeships and increase the representation of workers of color in registered programs. To increase the number of apprentices of color, the program encouraged new partnerships with apprenticeship programs that directly work with underserved communities.

Additionally, the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021 includes new grant programs that target apprenticeship programs that serve historically underserved workers.

To achieve racially equitable outcomes in apprenticeship programs, policymakers must understand the structural barriers Black apprentices face, states this issue brief from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The study analyzes data reported in the Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Database System (RAPIDS)7 from the U.S. Department of Labor to highlight these structural barriers.

Among the findings:

  • Black apprentices are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs. In 1960, just 3.3 percent of all apprentices were Black.8 More than six decades later, only nine percent of registered apprentices are Black despite Black workers making up 12.3 percent of the national labor force.
  • Black apprentices are concentrated in the South. Nearly 60 percent of the Black labor force lives in the South. In some southern states, such as Mississippi and South Carolina, the share of Black apprentices is either on par with or exceeds the share of the state’s Black labor force. Working conditions in the South lead to poor outcomes for apprentices in the region. State policies in the South are inextricably linked to racism.
  • Most Black apprentices work in construction but face exclusion from high-paying roles. About 40 percent of all Black apprentices are in the construction trades. The construction industry has a long history of overt racial discrimination against Black workers, but anti-discrimination policies have opened the door for more Black workers to enter this industry since the mid-20th century. However, Black men report that they do not receive the informal mentoring on the job site that white men receive and are more likely to be blamed when mistakes are made.
  • Black registered apprentices are least likely to complete programs. Registered apprenticeships could serve as a path to high-paying careers for Black apprentices, but many Black apprentices are not completing their programs. In 2021, Black workers had the lowest completion rate (41 percent) when compared to Hispanic (47 percent), white (48 percent), Native American (48 percent), and Asian and Pacific Islander (49 percent) apprentices.
  • Black apprentices have the lowest earnings. Registered apprenticeships can be a great pathway to increase earnings for Black workers. Earnings gains are well-documented, and the “earn-while-you-learn” potential of apprenticeships ensures that participants avoid student debt. Black registered apprentices experience an average $9 per hour earnings gain from the time they start their apprenticeship program to when they finish. However, Black registered apprentices still begin and end their apprenticeship earning the least when compared to white, Hispanic, and Asian apprentices despite across-the-board earnings gains.

The report concludes with several recommendations for improving equity in apprenticeships,  including the creation of permanent federal funding to help states and localities develop new programs to increase the representation of Black workers in traditional and nontraditional apprenticeship occupations; eliminating barriers to entry for people with low incomes; encouraging college credit for apprenticeship training; and developing a national system to track unregistered apprenticeship outcomes.

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