Daines proposes bill to allocate college savings to apprenticeships

(HELENA) On Friday, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines met with leaders from the skilled trades in Helena to discuss ways to encourage more students to consider apprenticeship programs.

Daines visited the Montana Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center, operated by local chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. The center offers a competitive apprenticeship program where young people who want to become electricians can earn a salary while developing the skills they will need.

“What we saw here today is an example of how we’re training the workforce for 21st-century challenges,” Daines said.

But leaders told Daines there are challenges for many of their apprentices. They said people going through these programs often need help with expenses for books, supplies and housing.

“In higher education, the students are able to take out student loans, they provide housing – they provide enough to get the person through that semester,” said Miles McCarvel, with the Iron Workers Local 14 Union. “When it comes to apprenticeship, you’re kind of on your own, especially at the beginning before you’ve saved up money.”

Daines said he wants to do more to make sure education in the trades is supported in the same way as four-year college.

“We need to rethink what higher education means,” he said.

He is now proposing a bill that would allow people to use money from 529 college savings plans for the costs of an apprenticeship program.

“They may want to pursue a college degree, but we should also encourage them to think about these apprenticeship programs – in the trades, in welding, in pipe-fitting, electrical skills,” he said. “These are the skills needed for the 21st-century economy.”

Daines said he has worked with members of both parties on this proposal, including Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. He said he hopes it can be a first step toward attracting more people to careers in the skilled trades.

“There are more open jobs right now than we have skilled workers to fill them,” said Daines. “This is a great example of how we can address that problem.”