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Inslee looks to expand apprenticeship programs in Washington

Governor Inslee, along with 45 delegates from Washington businesses, non-profits, and academic institutions, spent the last 3 days in Switzerland learning about the highly successful Swiss apprenticeship program. Their program is credited with contributing to Switzerland’s low youth unemployment rate and for giving young people more options and pathways for their future careers.

While there, Inslee spent time visiting some of the businesses, training associations, and colleges that offer apprenticeships including Swisscom, a telecommunications company, and ETH, a top science and technology university in Europe. The apprenticeships for these institutions allow students as young as 16 and 17 years old the opportunity to gain real life work experience while still attending high school.

Gov. Inslee says he wants to take this kind of model and bring it to Washington State. He wants to offer young people career paths outside of only getting a 4-year degree.

“I believe that the more choices for young people, the better. The more real life experience and the earlier that experience, the better,” says Inslee.

In order to bring this kind of model to Washington, Inslee says the first step is getting businesses to realize the good economic investment and potential returns they can get from offering apprenticeships. By putting in time and training early on, businesses can create a young, highly-trained work force with practical experience that will benefit them in the long run.

In Washington, a couple of apprenticeship programs have already begun to take root. The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee youth program, which offers high school students the opportunity for 2,000 hours of paid, on-the-job training in the aerospace industry, recently celebrated its first class of students. Similarly, the Apprenti program currently has 37 apprentices who will receive five months of technical training before starting a one-year paid apprenticeship at companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Silicon Mechanics.

“Switzerland and Washington have similar economies. The Swiss economy is high tech, diverse, and they offer apprenticeships across multiple sectors. I think this is very transferable to the state of Washington,” says Inslee.

Switzerland’s program is managed by participating businesses and the Swiss government. In Washington, the apprenticeship program would likely be managed in a similar way. In the coming legislative session, Inslee is unsure if anything involving apprenticeships will be brought to the table, but he did say the Career Connect Washington Task Force will give a presentation in January about the best steps forward to make widespread apprenticeship programs a reality in Washington.