Vt. lawmakers briefed on benefits of expanded apprenticeships

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Senator Bernie Sanders brought a special guest to the Statehouse Friday. German Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig spoke to lawmakers about Germany's apprenticeship program. Sanders is an advocate of expanding apprenticeship and workforce training programs here in America.

Daniel Bartlett has completed an electrical internship with Benoit Electric in Berlin. Now he's ready for a career. "I learned a lot in the field, hands on experience, definitely everyday going to work, forty hours a week. You learn crazy amounts of stuff and it's just very beneficial," Bartlett said.

That's the kind of training that German Ambassador Peter Wittig was touting at the Statehouse. "It's this combination of on-the-job training and formal education and in the colleges and community colleges -- and that is in our view the recipe for success," he said.

Wittig had lawmakers' attention. They want to grow Vermont's workforce -- and Vermonters' incomes. He says apprenticeships do that in Germany. Wittig says the 1.3 million trainees there -- in more than 300 programs -- spend 70-percent of their time at a company and 30-percent at school. Most are hired by the companies that train them. "They hope that then this apprentice will then stay in the company and this is the case in 70-percent of the cases," he said.

Sen. Sanders wants more apprenticeship programs for students who don't want to go to college. "All of you are aware of the issue and the magnitude of the issue that we're here for. And that is not everybody wants to go to college," Sanders said.

Heather Bouchey is the Deputy Secretary of the Agency of Education. She says apprenticeships provide students with additional options and more students should know about them. "There are options for going right into the workforce, there are options for additional training, there are options for going into higher education," she said. Bouchey says the agency is spreading the word that college isn't the only option. She says success will show up in economic indicators like economic growth and higher wages. "What we worry about are students who think that's the only option, and it doesn't feel like that's the right option for them."

Some 1,700 Vermonters took part in apprenticeships last year. There are 34 different programs and 335 employer sponsors. The state has a $3 million grant for programs and kicks in $1.2 million annually. Legislators are exploring options to expand programs.

Bartlett, who has completed his electrical apprenticeship, says that would be a good idea for Vermont. "It's a good opportunity, great career -- great opportunities and a lot of future prospects," he said.