U.S. offers $100 million in grants for apprentice programs

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez visited the Philadelphia School District to announce details of what the Obama administration is calling the largest federal investment in apprenticeship programs.

Perez calls apprenticeships “college without debt” during a Thursday news conference with several city and school officials.

That sounded about right to TJ Rivera, whose information technology apprenticeship is a ticket to a stable life. Right now, Rivera is earning valuable technical certifications and work experience. But not long ago, he was a homeless teenager with only his love of learning to keep him going.

“I was big into video games when I was a kid,” Rivera said Thursday. “I loved solving puzzles. I loved jigsaw puzzles, I loved Legos, I loved Kinext, I loved building blocks — even from a young age, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.”

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Rivera is one of about two dozen Philadelphia students enrolled in the Urban Technology project, an apprenticeship program run by the nonprofit Communities in Schools in partnership with the school district.

It’s one of many programs nationwide that will be eligible to compete for $100 million in new federal grants

Mayor Michael Nutter called it a wonderful example of what the Philadelphia School District could do “if it had the money.”

“We’re making progress, but we need more investment now. The grants from the fed government — we’re very aggressive, but you need sustained, recurring funding,” Nutter said. “Pennsylvanians have said time and time again they want investments in education, and, unfortunately, we’ve seen what happens when you don’t have the resources.”

Nutter said it’s a particularly good time for apprentice programs. Federal statistics show unemployment in the city has dropped to its lowest levels since 2008.

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