OLYMPIA — Workers in Washington state would benefit from new apprenticeship programs in growing fields, reinvigorated support for existing apprenticeships, and significantly increased state funding for apprentices at public colleges, under two bills passed recently by the Senate.

“The ‘earn-while-you-learn’ approach, with both classroom instruction and supervised on-the-job training, makes apprenticeships accessible to many—especially women and people of color—who can’t take time off work or afford to go to a traditional college or university,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee. “We can build a more diverse and expanded apprenticeship system that opens the door to a successful future for so many more Washingtonians.”

Currently these benefits are out of reach for many workers and employers because several high-growth fields lack existing or sufficient apprenticeships.

“So many of our neighbors – and so many across the state – have built their educational and career journeys with our nation-leading apprenticeship programs,” said Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), chair of the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee. “We can do a better job of recognizing and honoring the many hours they’ve invested in on-the-job learning, and make sure they get credit for that when they want to pivot and grow in their careers.”

SB 5764, sponsored by Randall, passed on Thursday. It would create permeable pathways between apprenticeship programs and college so that students in apprenticeship programs are treated equally when it comes to access to tuition and grants, and successful apprenticeship graduates have a clearer pathway to earn an associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree in the future, if they choose.

Randall’s bill would remove red tape that prevents apprenticeship students from using the Washington College Grant. And it would reform outdated requirements that burden individual apprentices, making college credit difficult to earn for coursework in apprenticeship programs. This would allow the college system to recognize the value of their experience more completely.

SB 5600, sponsored by Keiser, passed today. It would expand apprenticeships across the board. This approach builds on work by the building trades as well as the new state initiative Career Connect Washington and other advances since the Legislature passed the Workforce Education Investment Act in 2019.

Keiser’s bill would create collaborative platforms by economic and industry-based sectors, giving industry stakeholders the tools to modernize and improve their offerings, as well as fill gaps in rapidly changing industries. Health care, maritime, manufacturing, high technology and education are among the sectors identified as high-skill, high-job-growth areas for innovative apprenticeships.

SB 5600 would include three new grant programs to fund wraparound support services to remove barriers to participating in apprenticeships, help existing apprenticeships incorporate remote instruction, and upgrade equipment to expand capacity in existing apprenticeships.

Read more in this Seattle Times op-ed by Keiser and Randall: “Help more students access quality job apprenticeships” as well as this Seattle Times editorial in support of the legislation: “Expand and improve Washington’s apprenticeship programs.”