Business and Labor

Apprenticeship grant program considered

The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Jan. 22 on a bill intended to assist individuals who are receiving public benefits to achieve full-time employment through a registered apprenticeship program.

Sen. Teresa Ibach
Sen. Teresa Ibach

LB993, introduced by Sumner Sen. Teresa Ibach, would create the Apprenticeship Grant Act to be administered by the state Department of Economic Development. Under the act, DED could provide grants of up to $37,000 per enrolled apprentice to qualified Nebraska businesses. Funds would be used to reimburse the cost of on-the-job training and classroom instruction for underemployed individuals who also are receiving state-funded economic assistance.

Qualifying businesses would need to be partnered with a registered apprenticeship program and offer full-time employment upon successful completion of the apprenticeship program that pays a wage sufficient to reduce the individual’s participation in economic assistance programs.

The bill also would create the Apprenticeship Nebraska Cash Fund and authorize up to $4 million in total annual grants. The measure would not, however, transfer or direct any state dollars to the fund. The fund could accept legislative appropriations, donations, bequests or other contributions from public or private entities.

Ibach said the measure was inspired by Ignite Nebraska, a registered apprenticeship program currently operating in the state.

“Ignite Nebraska … has developed an excellent workforce model that connects community partners, employers and educational institutions to provide paid apprenticeship opportunities with the promise of a full-time job offer in a high-demand, high-skilled, high-paying career,” Ibach said. “LB993 seeks to expand this program statewide.”

Joni Wheeler, founder of Ignite Nebraska, testified in favor of the bill, which she said could replicate the success of her program statewide. Every graduate of Ignite Nebraska has received full-time employment in their field, she said.

“Of the alumni who previously received economic assistance from the state of Nebraska, 100% no longer rely on state-funded support.” Wheeler said. “This bill is a game changer in workforce development and it is life changing for Nebraskans.”

Speaking in support of LB993, Luke Grobeck said graduating from the Ignite Nebraska program made it possible for him not only to survive and afford basic necessities, but to thrive and pursue additional education.

“I no longer worry about affording my rent or maintenance on my car because my career has enabled me to build financial stability and independence,” Grobeck said. “The apprenticeship ensured that I focused on learning the new skills I needed in the classroom without having to worry about losing access to the resources I needed to be successful.”

Carter Thiele, policy and research coordinator for the Lincoln Independent Business Association, also testified in support of LB993. He suggested modifications to the program’s administration, however, and suggested that lawmakers increase the proposed annual grant cap from $4 million to $8 million to allow for full utilization of the program across the state.

“Increased funding and a more business friendly approach could ensure that the Apprenticeship Grant Act not only achieves its noble goals, but also becomes a resounding success story for the great state of Nebraska,” Thiele said.

Testifying on behalf of the State Council of Electrical Workers, John Nebel spoke in opposition to the bill. Although not opposed to the development of registered apprenticeships, Nebel noted that many positions in the trades require an apprentice to obtain an additional license or certification before they can be considered for a full-time position.

The result, he said, is that some contractors could view the bill’s requirement of a job guarantee as a disincentive to participate in the program.

The committee took no immediate action on LB993.

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