What Are Teaching Apprenticeship Programs?
With countless states continuing to navigate teacher shortages and the need to diversify the industry becoming increasingly clear, many are adopting strategies to increase access to and reduce the cost of becoming an educator. A recent study conducted by the Rand corporation found that nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–21 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic.
The lack of educators has reached the forefront of worker shortages due to the disproportionate placement of underprepared teachers in schools that often predominantly serve students of color from families with low incomes. The COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions in schooling, and the scattered process of students returning to class have even further illuminated the value of great teachers and the pain caused by their absence.
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As a result of these shortages, leaders in education have started to turn towards Apprenticeships as a viable option for filling in some of these in-demand positions. Education-based Apprenticeships follow the "learn and earn" model where apprentices will learn the skills of a job through a combination of coursework and time spent learning on the job under the supervision of a mentor. Apprentices will also earn an hourly wage that increases as apprentices gain skills and credentials.
As these new recruiting practices build a new generation of teachers, what's old is now being made new. Apprenticeships provide job training to get workers on the path to a new career at little to no personal cost while continuing to earn an income. While apprenticeships have historically been used in industries like the building and construction trades, they have recently modernized allowing them to expand into multiple different industries including education.
Why Are Apprenticeships in Education Beneficial?
With the introduction of some of these new teaching apprenticeships, some may ask how a Registered Apprenticeship model is much different from the more commonly known Grow Your Own model that many school districts and states have started to implement. What sets these two models apart is that Registered Apprenticeship programs receive new funding and quality control. Registered Apprenticeships are approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, meaning they have met the Department's standards for rigor and quality. A Registered Apprenticeship will also produce a nationally-recognized credential for apprentices, along with worker protections like minimum payment rules.
Through this model, apprenticeships act as a paid job and participants can earn progressive wages as their skills and productivity increase. Teaching apprenticeships also act as a structured mentorship as programs include structured on-the-job training to prepare participants for a successful career by gaining valuable instruction from an experienced mentor. Another great benefit of utilizing an apprenticeship program is how they can diversify their pool of applicants as programs are designed to reflect the communities in which they operate to ensure access, equity, and inclusion.
“Early educators are most frequently lower income, females, often young parents, and do not have the luxury, or opportunity, or finances to support leaving their positions and going back to school,” said Emily Workman, the author of the report. “An apprenticeship program offers both financial support but also opportunities to learn on the job, to remain working full-time while pursuing higher education. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Emily Workman, Author at New America
The “earn and learn” model is also common in other industries like healthcare, manufacturing, and hospitality and has seen long-term impacts on participants who go on to complete their apprenticeship including higher earnings and better retention. These findings hold promise for apprenticeship programs that allow participants to become teachers without having to go down the traditional college path, eliminating the burden of having to pay tuition while simultaneously getting paid and earning a nationally-recognized credential within their industry.
Leading The Way
One of the first teacher apprenticeships launched is Tennessee’s Teacher Occupation Apprenticeship program. The program represents the first K-12 teacher apprenticeship program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and vetted to meet their high standards. While the program includes all of the components of a Registered Apprenticeship apprentices in the program will complete 6,000 hours of paid, on-the-job training and 1,800 hours of classroom instruction which will lead up to achieving a bachelor’s degree.
Degree apprenticeships are relatively uncommon in the U.S. apprenticeship system but are a promising model for providing structured, low-cost training for occupations that often require associate and bachelor’s degrees. To fuel program development across the state, the Tennessee Department of Education used $6.5 million in federal recovery funds to launch a competitive grant program to help educator preparation programs and school districts, partner, to build pipelines of homegrown teachers using the apprenticeship model. The program will be offered at no cost to participants, include a paid, multi-year residency for anyone earning a bachelor’s degree, and lead to dual certification in a grade or subject area.
Another program trailblazing the way is the Pennsylvania PAsmart apprenticeship. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf today announced a first-of-its-kind registered apprenticeship to train K-12 public school teachers to develop further their skills and better prepare students for their future careers.
“I’m proud that Pennsylvania has the first registered apprenticeship program for public school teachers in the country. The experience that teachers gain will help them connect the dots between their students, education, and growing careers.
Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania
The new apprenticeship will focus on using technology to show apprentices about growing industries and the skills they’ll need to get a job when they’re ready to join the workforce full-time. Expanding apprenticeships has been a priority for Governor Wolf as he launched PAsmart last year to invest in job training and science and technology education.
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Building on that success, the governor’s budget would create opportunities for Pennsylvanians from birth to retirement through the Statewide Workforce, Education, and Accountability Program (SWEAP). The initiative expands access to early childhood education, increases investments in schools, and partners with the private sector to expand on the PAsmart initiative.
This year, the governor is proposing an additional $10 million for PAsmart to bolster career and technical education for adults as well as job training programs at companies to enhance the skills of Pennsylvania workers.
Normalizing These Programs
While apprenticeships are becoming more and more common in a plethora of different fields, early-childhood education centers often lack the infrastructure needed to make these programs work and are forced to rely on outside partners for support. The U.S. Department of Labor has recommended that states look to establish apprenticeship programs and seek partnerships with other supporting partners such as businesses, labor unions, or educational institutions.
Overseas where many countries' apprenticeship infrastructure is much larger have seen great success in building upon their economies. A study completed by the U.K. Department of Business found that apprentices scored around 4% better than university graduates on an employability scale. This kind of disparity brings into question whether the college or university path is the only option for higher education and starts to promote apprenticeships to become the new normal.
The government has taken steps in working toward supporting apprenticeships further with the introduction of its new Apprenticeship Building America Program. The initiative is backed by President Biden’s current strategy of growing the infrastructure of registered apprenticeships and will allocate over $113 million in grant money available, including $50 million going towards the support of equity partnerships and pre-apprenticeship programs. The Department of Labor hopes that this increase in funding will help to increase enrollment in Registered Apprenticeship Programs while also helping create quality work opportunities in order to fill current labor shortages.