In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, some companies are investing in automation to save on costs. This poses a significant challenge for workers who lack the requisite training or education for the jobs that are available.

Policymakers should always strive to find ways to help workers get the experience they need to succeed in today’s economy. But during a pandemic, which has introduced extreme economic uncertainty, ensuring that workers can meet the qualifications for the types of jobs available is of paramount importance.

Apprenticeships are an effective way to train students and workers and prepare them for good-paying jobs. Fortunately, the current administration has prioritized the expansion of apprenticeships. Months after taking office, President Trump signed an executive order reducing barriers to high-quality industry-recognized apprenticeships by allowing companies, trade associations, and unions to develop their own guidelines. 

And in March of this year, the Labor Department issued a final rule establishing Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs to help expand apprenticeships in sectors where apprenticeships are not widely available such as health care and telecommunications. 

As my colleague Patrice Onwuka has written, work-based learning programs can help American workers (especially young people, displaced workers, and the formerly incarcerated) find and keep jobs. They also offer an alternative to college for workers who want to pursue fulfilling lives without the debt that often comes with attending college. 

Patrice offers these three compelling reasons for why apprenticeships are a good idea:

  1. Apprenticeships deliver good-paying jobs – Over 90 percent of apprentices snag work after completing their programs, with a starting pay of more than $70,000 annually. 
  2. Apprentices aren’t on the hook for large student debt – Most people in apprenticeships conclude their programs without any debt. Compare that to the average college graduate who left campus with $30,000 in debt. 
  3. Apprentices can still earn college credits and degrees 

And there are ways to create and strengthen apprenticeship programs while still protecting and preserving public health. Employers and program sponsors can ensure workers’ safety by encouraging certain practices such as hand washing and social distancing.

Hands-on learning can prepare workers for the opportunities of today and tomorrow. During this time of uncertainty, it is imperative that policymakers look for more ways to help those seeking gainful employment get the skills they need. Broadening access to apprenticeship opportunities is one proven way to accomplish this.