In an environment where technological advances are constant, employers of all industries benefit from apprenticeship programming, and companies are increasingly utilizing apprenticeship programs to fill their employee pipelines.
Apprenticeships allow employers to take charge of their own destinies, building employee pipelines and increasing the skill sets of existing workers.
When employers think of apprenticeships, the first occupations that come to mind are often those in the manufacturing and construction industries. But when we take a closer look, there are more than 1,000 occupations that offer apprenticeship training, according to apprenticeship.gov.
Each occupation is so valuable to employers because of the unique set of skills it requires. With so many occupations available and skill sets additionally customized to individual employers (like Mazda Toyota Manufacturing’s “robot doctor” position), the educational system faces steep challenges when it comes to providing specificity in its curriculum.
“We can’t provide a specific level of training in every single education program across the state or across the nation,” says Josh Laney, the director of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship. “Our only hope to keep up with the increasing levels of specificity is to get people into the places where the work is really at.”
Apprenticeships in Action
Like most companies involved in apprenticeship training, Postmates, an on-demand delivery platform, doesn’t approach the effort alone. It partners with organizations such as TechSF, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and nonprofits such as Upwardly Global and Dev/Mission, to identify candidates and ongoing support.
“We think there’s a huge upside to providing on-the-job learning opportunities for those who may not have had access to traditional education pathways,” says Claire Sands, Postmates’ Director of Community Communications and Engagement.
Like many companies, Postmates has found a “learn-and-earn” method to be most effective for apprentices. In this model, apprentices are placed within a solid, applicable team where they refine their hard skills and pair those with curricula sponsored by an organization, like TechSF.
In this way, apprentices are supported both within and outside of the workplace. The apprentices are earning a real income and, perhaps most importantly, the model gives apprentices a “bridge” to economic certainty.
It’s a win-win model many companies and apprentices are adopting with increased enthusiasm.
“Apprenticeship gives us an opportunity to take in new employees for a company and train them to a skill level where they can be successful,” says Todd Kiel, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s (NWTC) Apprenticeship Manager. “They are being immersed in the culture of the business at the same time they are getting their educations.”
With apprenticeships, through a collaboration of employers, educators and workforce intermediaries, employers have a much better outcome in creating well-trained employees.
“Creating a solid employee, and potentially a more civic-minded employee, is important for all of us moving forward,” Kiel says.
NWTC’s region includes Green Bay and Marinette, where one in four jobs is tied to the manufacturing sector. There are 300 employers and 1,100 apprentices involved in apprenticeship training in the region. Kiel says the state is also looking at forming apprenticeships in the IT and health care sectors.
To the south in Birmingham, Ala., employers and their partners have discovered apprenticeship models work well to address the skills gap in the IT sector, according to Antiqua Cleggett, Central Six AlabamaWorks’ Executive Director. Central Six is a workforce intermediary serving six counties.
“We have four employers that are taking advantage of this consortium-style software development/IT apprenticeship,” Cleggett says. The region currently has 10 apprentices and two registered programs, which are software development and industrial maintenance. “We are also in conversations with the health care sector, exploring what an apprenticeship model can do for them,” Cleggett adds.
Making Workforce Development Work
Employers have many questions when it comes to creating apprenticeship programming, including where to begin, how much a program will cost, and what exactly registered apprenticeships are.
To keep things simple, there are three types of registered apprenticeships:
- Time-based (on the job; 2,000 hours equals one year)
- Competency-based (industry credentials and outside instruction)
- Hybrid (a combination of time-based and competency-based programs)
Registered apprenticeships have sponsors, which typically are individual businesses, a group of businesses, workforce intermediaries or colleges. Employers can provide their own technical instruction or enlist technical instruction providers.
The recently formed Alabama Office of Apprenticeship is in the process of becoming a state apprenticeship agency as designated by the U.S. Department of Labor, which means the state can directly register apprenticeships and sponsorships.
Once registered, employers and employees have access to certain benefits, which helps offset costs. The funds can include federal monies, and in some states, such as Alabama, tax credits.
While funding to offset costs is helpful, the major benefits of apprenticeships include company-specific skills training, increases in skill sets for existing staff, employee retention, increased productivity, safer workplaces, and a stable pipeline of trained talent.
Support from higher education and workforce intermediary partners is also vital to successful apprenticeship programs.
“Some of the smaller entrepreneurial companies haven’t built up the resources to be able to do this, but still want to participate,” Kiel points out. “We want to help those businesses advance and to make sure they have the right workforce to make their businesses thrive.”
Establishing registered apprenticeship programs is a work in progress within the network of small manufacturing companies located in south and west Chicago. The Manufacturing Renaissance works with the area’s youth to earn portable industry credentials and provides access to career pathways in manufacturing jobs, in the “pre-apprenticeship” space.
“We are meeting the companies where they are at,” says Erica Swinney Staley, Manufacturing Renaissance’s Executive Director. “Anything that is done to make a systematic pathway for young people to get these types of jobs and persist in these types of jobs is critical.”
One of the challenges in Staley’s area is most manufacturers are small, privately-held organizations, each with their own unique culture, which can create barriers to implementation and investments in wages to pay apprentices. What’s more, apprentices should be college-ready.
“Unfortunately, most young people we work with are not college-ready when they graduate from high school, so [apprenticeships] really don’t become an option,” Staley says.
An additional barrier to creating a successful apprenticeship program is young people’s knowledge of the program’s opportunities. Many high schoolers are not aware skilled trades are a viable career or that there are opportunities for them to pursue these types of jobs.
Building additional bridges between all of the components of a successful apprenticeship program continues to be important.
“The key limiting factor to economic development across the country, and really around the world, is the availability of skilled workforce, as well as a trained and trainable workforce,” Laney says.
Focusing on the Youth
Success in the future lies with today’s youth.
“If employers keep waiting until students have graduated high school and then try to attract them, we have waited too late in a lot of those cases,” Laney says.
There is a misconception, particularly in the manufacturing sectors, that these industries can’t employ staff under the age of 18, particularly when it comes to hazardous occupations.
By taking a closer look at age restrictions, almost every one of them is waived for apprentices because of the safety training and mentor-mentee relations built into the program, according to Laney.
“The governor [Kay Ivey] is putting an emphasis on getting kids into the employment pipeline at a younger age,” says Ed Bushaw, South Baldwin County (Ala.) Chamber of Commerce’s Director of Talent Development and Recruitment. He says Alabama employers are eligible to receive a $1,750 tax credit per year, per apprentice less than 17 years of age; and a $1,250 tax credit for those over 17 years old.
Bushaw’s organization sponsors 22 registered businesses and features 30 adult and 100 youth apprentices. The county features a variety of industries including lodging properties, hospitality-related, culinary and manufacturing companies. The county is also home to the nation’s first-ever registered apprenticeship for home inspectors, and there is already an insurance industry apprenticeship in the county as well. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which have entertainment venues in the county, are involved in apprenticeship and succession planning for managerial positions. Succession planning outlines next-level steps.
So, what should employers across the nation take away from a discussion about apprenticeships and the role they play in the future of workforce development?
“Apprenticeships are flexible,” Cleggett says. “It gives you an opportunity to build your own workforce, upskill your workers and create your own pipeline of talent. You design an apprenticeship to meet your needs.”
Postmates’ Sands writes, “One of our biggest takeaways has been that anyone internally can champion programs like this. You don’t necessarily have to be the hiring manager or sit within recruiting — the earlier employees realize the power they have to help drive these things, the better.”
Apprenticeship Week Hails Successes
The fifth annual National Apprenticeship Week was held in November, where events took place across the country for businesses, communities and educators to showcase their partnerships and raise awareness of the advantages of apprenticeships. As of November 3rd, there were 511 events and 26 proclamations registered to celebrate the week.
If you think a workforce development program could help your business, here are five ways to start:
- Explore apprenticeships as a strategy for skilled workers.
- Partner with key players in your region.
- Build the core component for your program.
- Register to join the apprenticeship network.
- Launch your registered apprenticeship program.
Visit apprenticeship.gov to learn more.
Rachel is a writer, editor, content manager and storyteller based in Lawrence, Kansas. She has written extensively about manufacturing, workforce issues, economic development and a variety of industry sectors.