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Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has drafted legislation to create a new federal grant program for college-level apprenticeships that would require the employer to pay for partial tuition and encourage the award of college credit through the apprentice work.

“Student apprenticeships are a proven way to prepare Americans for jobs in the 21st century economy, but there is a disconnect between higher education and a workforce seeking highly skilled and trained candidates,” said Bennet in a statement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 7 million unfilled jobs as of September.

As written, Bennet’s bill would direct the U.S. Department of Labor to award money to programs that have a plan for including “a high number” of women, people of color, veterans and those with disabilities. The programs would need to orient toward high-wage, high-growth and in-demand occupations.

There is no dollar amount included in the proposal.

The legislation would also require employers to pay no less than 25% of an apprentice’s college tuition and fees, and allow universities to use the federal money for developing plans to award college credit for work experience. The federal definition of a work-study program would now include apprenticeships.

On the state level, the legislature’s Making Higher Education Attainable Interim Study Committee advanced a similar proposal this month to integrate work experience into college credit.

Gov. Jared Polis announced November to be Colorado Apprenticeship Month, with 6,000 apprentices working in the state. Nationally, apprenticeships grew 56% between 2013 and 2018, with the Department of Labor planning to award $100 million to such programs.

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