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Apprenticeship Advocacy Opinion

The Evolution of the Modern Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships for years have been synonymous with the blue-collar trades like construction and welding yet this trend is quickly shifting into the technology industry as tech apprenticeship programs continue to rise and government funding reaches an all-time high.

Building the foundation of apprenticeships

In 1937, the Fitzgerald Act was signed into law, and with it, the Registered Apprenticeship was born. At this time apprenticeships were predominantly associated with construction and manufacturing jobs. Following the end of World War II apprenticeships began to grow much more common spreading into training programs for occupancies like police officers, firefighters, and some emergency medical personnel. Across the wide range of registered apprenticeship programs about 68% of them still lie within the construction industry though in recent years there has been a large push for apprenticeships in the tech industry in fields like computer science.

The need for skilled workers is reaching record highs and the supply and demand disparity has been significantly increasing. Many companies still expect to see a traditional four-year college degree though the shift in tech apprenticeships has created a more sustainable model to include talented participants who are motivated to work.

In recent months the United States has seen a surge in popularity for apprenticeship programs due to the decline of labor force participation due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Apprenticeships could offer an alternative way to create jobs while simultaneously training skilled workers who are much needed in today’s workforce. Though a majority of today’s registered apprenticeship programs are in construction, much of the research done on the growth of apprenticeships sees the biggest jump within the service sector seeing spikes in occupations like health care and computer technology.

A great college alternative

 Apprenticeships have remained a relevant program within the country’s workforce due to the fact that apprenticeship programs allow their participants to earn a wage while they work as well as giving young people another option when it comes to higher education after high school. Companies providing apprenticeships can also benefit from the fact that apprenticeships promote retention among their employees as well as helping them earn real-world experience in their field. Since 2010 we have seen a rise in registered apprenticeships of almost more than 64% this also comes with the fact that traditional 4-year colleges have seen a recent decline of a little over a million.

A recent study performed by LinkedIn saw that all that the top five hard skills many companies are searching for are centralized database management/blockchain capabilities, cloud computing, analytical reasoning, artificial intelligence, and user-experience design. On top of these “hard skills,” companies also look for “soft” skills. Apprenticeships have the ability to be able to teach their participants both soft and hard skills at the same time. This is due to the work-based model, which allows participants to develop technical skills in the classroom and then applies them at work while learning soft skills.

It is projected in a study conducted by Forbes that people who complete an apprenticeship program can enhance their wages by hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the length of their careers. The study states that “In Florida, apprentices typically earn $48,000 in the first year of their careers, compared to just $29,000 for graduates of the state’s associate degree programs. For many people, the most appealing aspect is that apprentices receive a wage while they are in training, so they don’t have to take on student debt. The number of apprentices registered with the Department of Labor surpassed 636,000 in 2020, a 64% increase from the level a decade ago. Despite a brief plateau during the Covid-19 pandemic, the ranks of registered apprentices have increased every year since 2011”. The influx in both attention and participation in these apprentice programs is the workforce training model that has grown more and more popular in recent years.

The recent shift toward expanding apprenticeships past blue-collar association

 Today’s workforce has become very diverse in nature in recent years and with that, we have seen companies start to use apprenticeship programs to expand beyond career technical training to include white-collar professions and occupations such as finance and aerospace. This shift can be seen throughout the United States with professional service firms like Aon and Accenture adapting apprenticeships for more white-collar work in Chicago. Through their partnerships, with many educational institutions, the firms started to create a talent pipeline of skilled workers who could excel in their fields.

Chicago is not the only city looking to up its skilled workforce as Silicon Valley and the rest of the bay area have also taken notice of how apprenticeships can help strengthen their businesses. Many tech companies throughout the bay area are now turning to apprenticeships for their on-the-job training model expanding the programs throughout the industry.

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute recently performed a study within their community and the positive effects of how apprenticeships can help to serve low-income and underrepresented populations in the Bay Area through investment and training. In the study, they outlined 6 major recommendations that could help support a framework for tech apprenticeships.

These 6 recommendations include,

  • Expanding connections between training partners that target low-income, underrepresented populations and tech employers with apprenticeship programs.
  • Facilitating a partnership between community colleges and non-profit training providers to match the rigor of instruction with employer talent needs. 
  • Identify a source of financial support for underserved populations, allowing individuals seeking to make a career switch into tech the time to develop soft and hard skills to become competitive apprenticeship applicants.
  • Determine the aspects and costs of apprenticeship programs that can be shared or made more efficient through employer collaboration
  • Increase access to on-the-job tech training by expanding access to state funding and tax credits for apprenticeships in tech. 
  • Increase the appetite and redefine base level qualifications for entry-level technical roles.

Continuing to build upon apprenticeship program growth

The University of Colorado has built a significant apprenticeship program over the years investing significant resources into their Cybersecurity Apprenticeship. The program aims to help participants gain knowledge and skills within the cybersecurity realm as well as helping them to earn middle to advanced level positions. For decades a traditional vocational apprenticeship often saw a participant following a mentor four days a week and then one day a week would be set aside for classes. These programs would take many students around three to five years to complete.

University of Colorado’s program zeroes in on training apprentices for any type of cybersecurity analyst role. Participants will be required to complete three courses which will, in turn, see them earn 12 credits as well as industry-recognized certifications. Upon completion of their program apprentices are awarded a Certificate of Completion and may apply 12 credits earned towards B.S. in Business with Emphasis in Cybersecurity Management or Information Systems at the school.

The U.S Department of Labor has also recently announced that they would allocate over $87 Million in federal funding to help expand and diversify registered apprentice programs throughout the country. With our current economy slowly improving adding almost 19.4 million jobs between 2010 and 2019 apprenticeship programs look more attractive than ever. Federal funding for these programs is reaching an all-time high combined with the growing demand for workers who possess technical skills inspiring employers to continue to invest in apprenticeships

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