Apprenticeships: An Underutilized Powerhouse

Apprenticeships across the country offer opportunities focused on job training while simultaneously getting educated on valuable industry skills.

Apprentice working at a desk
Sovann Boyd

Sovann Boyd

Digital Marketing Specialist

The Underutilization of Apprenticeships

Within our country, the nation’s education system has set a trend throughout society that a four-year college degree is the only pathway to a well-paying job or career in a desired field of choice. Though this simply is no longer the case as apprenticeship programs across the country offer opportunities focused on on-the-job training where a participant can earn a livable wage while simultaneously getting trained on valuable industry skills that will help them throughout their careers. Despite this model being a proven source of employment apprenticeships are extremely underutilized in the United States.

Recent studies have shown that less than half of students who set out to earn a bachelor’s degree are successful in doing so and those who do end up completing their degree haven’t done so without accumulating massive amounts of debt in the process. According to Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the United States will not meet the current demand for skilled technical workers by 5 million. Currently, The U.S. Department of Labor administers 375,000 active registered apprenticeships, This number is drastically low compared to other leading countries overseas. Nations like England, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Scotland all have seen great success in building their apprenticeship infrastructure and by following their example the U.S. could replicate similar success if correctly executed. 


Graph of Apprenticeships based on country

Image Provided by the Center for American Progress with data collected from The U.S Department of Labor


Why the Apprenticeship Model is the Answer to Our Workforce Skill Gaps

Throughout the United States apprenticeships are often grouped with the craft and trade industries with occupations like carpenters, pipefitters, and industrial mechanics, though the work-based-learning model that apprenticeships use is significantly underutilized in other industries that they could successfully be applied to. Implementing apprenticeships more consistently throughout our countries workforce is a proven pathway to closing skill gaps as well as creating economic mobility and opportunity for a wider scope of participants. The benefits to these kinds of programs are becoming increasingly more attractive as apprentices are paid to learn on the job without program fees, making the daunting factor of incoming college debt less appealing to many young people entering the workforce.


Kevin Martin a chief research officer at the i4cp productivity blog outlines five great reasons apprenticeship programs are sound investments for employers stating, 

1. Apprenticeships lead to employment.

2. Apprenticeships increase lifetime compensation.

3. Apprentices gain an education without hefty debt.

4. Apprenticeships build skills and create pathways for career advancement.

5. Investing in apprenticeships correlates to higher market performance.


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 90% of apprentices become employed after completing their apprenticeships six months after completion. Apprentices also have the opportunity to start earning wages immediately with starting salaries reaching upwards of $50,000. It is estimated that around 40% of job growth in the next year will be in middle-skill jobs that can easily be filled by incoming apprentices making the model an important factor in our countries ongoing skilled worker shortage. Employers who jump on the apprenticeship megatrend will gain a pipeline of skilled workers who will have the necessary skills to increase productivity and boost the bottom line.


Apprenticeships as a Megatrend

Outside the United States apprenticeships are widely accepted as an industry-tested pathway to employment as in the United Kingdom apprenticeships are better funded & more accepted than in the US with apprentices in the UK making up 1% of their population compared to the U.S. where that number stands at 0.1%. Within the U.S. apprenticeship jobs are often stigmatized or downplayed because they do not require a bachelor’s degree however these jobs can be critical for employers and their company’s success. This trend is slowly changing in the United States as new mass spending bills fund the creation of programs across the nation as The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced over $130 million in grants set aside to modernize and diversify Registered Apprenticeship Programs across the country. 


Joseph Fuller and Matthew Sigelman who are contributors for the Harvard Bussiness Review recently conducted research on new frontiers for apprenticeship as they state, 


“With these changes, the number of Americans that could be employed through work-based apprentice training could be increased from 410,000 to 3.3 million, boosting employer production and reducing costs to young Americans entering the workforce.”

Joseph B. Fuller & Matthew Sigelman Via Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Bussiness Review


The study also found that around 27 current occupations utilize apprenticeship programs but discovered that another 47 fields have the potential to be staffed through apprenticeships. These positions also often have lower than average job turnover making the potential return on investment for employers very attractive. Currently, in the United States, there is an excess of 150,000 employers operating apprenticeship programs. Current projections indicate that this number will increase by 10x by 2030. If these projections end up coming to fruition the potential market for apprenticeship programs could be astronomical, allowing for significant future growth in the industry.


Image of two apprentices working together.

Image provided by Adobe Stock 


Proven Efficacy

Employers who are utilizing apprenticeship programs will be able to build an entry-level workforce that can fuel their company’s job openings as well as give employers a greater opportunity to assess a worker’s job skills and comprehension before moving them to a full-time position within the company. One major employer of apprentices that has seen great success in its program is Dow Manufacturing. In their curriculum, they blend formal education standards with paid on-the-job training by partnering with local community colleges in the area. In these programs, apprentices will receive related technical instruction as well as mentoring support throughout their time in the program gaining valuable industry knowledge as they work towards earning an associate’s degree.

Dows apprenticeship program is certified through the U.S. Department of Labor making the apprentices who graduate from their programs certified at the national level helping their chances of being recognized by potential employers even after they leave their program. Through their apprenticeship program, Dow has seen high retention rates from their participants as well as increased productivity throughout their companies workforce making their program an integral part of their business since 2015 with plans to continue to expand in the near future. Other employers have taken advantage of the apprenticeship model effectively in hopes of boosting diversity in their current talent pools by paving the way for more underrepresented groups including women, veterans, second chance job seekers, and more people of color. 

A 2018 study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute predicted that U.S. manufacturing would have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, and in July 2021 the Department of Labor showed 889,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs. It is also reported that currently, 25% of unfilled positions will be white-collar and 75% will fall under blue-collar production jobs. Apprenticeship programs represent the most viable option to fill these skill gaps through workforce training and related technical instruction, while also helping to build strong talent pools in local communities alleviating current worker shortages across the country.

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