A Vital Alternative
Over the years technical and vocational programs have been a prevalent option for high school students who find hands-on learning more effective. Though these kinds of programs have often been pushed aside in favor of four-year universities and college degrees. Today’s on-the-job training methods often model themselves after modern apprenticeships as these programs have recently developed into full-fledged training programs with the help from government funding as well as community college partnerships apprenticeships have established themselves as a viable alternative to a traditional college degree.
Community colleges have begun to play a vital role in pioneering some of these apprenticeship programs as they seek new ways to help support growing worker needs as well as create education programs that are accessible to everyone. Community colleges deliver programs that work with local businesses to design academic programs, grant credits, and credentials, and provide support services such as tutoring and counseling.
“The apprenticeship model addresses educational inequities in several ways. For one, it offers participants “a debt-free pathway” to future careers. This component alone makes apprenticeships the most viable educational strategy for the many students who have financial and family responsibilities. We have to see apprenticeship as an education strategy that better fits the needs of today’s working learners students who are the first generation or who really have a lot of pressures on them to persist to get to college.”
Brent Parton, Deputy Director of Center on Education and Skills
Community college–based apprenticeship programs are as varied as the campuses themselves. Some similarities are more common than others though as many programs have a participant match with an employer where apprentices will divide their time between on-the-job training and the courses they need to earn associate degrees. Most start out earning a typical entry-level salary, but the silver lining for participants is that employers cover 100% of educational costs.
These partnerships have carved out a new initiative that promotes the use of apprenticeships as a stepping stone to earning college credit for their work. What sets community colleges apart from other programs is that they are uniquely positioned to help upscale the number of high-quality apprenticeship opportunities and expand apprenticeship into industries like healthcare, information technology, business, and advanced manufacturing, where workers need educational credentials to advance in their careers.
College Credit for Apprenticeships
The partnership between apprenticeship programs and community colleges can provide a plethora of benefits for both parties as a well-built apprenticeship program can help to increase a community college’s retention and completion rates. Apprenticeships that have a college-connected program often offer academic credit for a portion or all of the classroom and/or on-the-job learning component of an apprenticeship. Some community colleges even allow participants classroom instruction through a series of for-credit courses. In many instances, an institution can slot apprentices into existing course offerings or easily create a new class, provided sufficient employer demand.
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In this current system, students are not graduating with the skills needed to qualify for many jobs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to online learning platforms has dramatically changed the learning landscape for the near future. One example of a successful program that actively uses this model is the collaboration between AT&T and Northern Virginia Community College a designated provider of Virginia's registered apprenticeship programs where students can receive information technology training helping the state to fill much-needed gaps in their workforce. The training curriculum is designed to be completed in two years while student participants have their background clearances processed. The federal government will sponsor these security clearances while apprentices are being trained in the program.
Students who complete the program will graduate with 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and will be required and supported to achieve 5 industry certifications. These are established and highly sought information technology training programs in IT technical, operational, program, and asset management. Apprentices who successfully complete the technical training and are approved for a federal government security clearance are expected to transition to full-time employment at AT&T and support their work for federal agencies.
Overcoming the Stigma
In the United States, career tech programs continue to be plagued by stereotypes, and too often young people and their parents tend to avoid these programs due to the stigma associated with them. This mindset is changing as today’s workforce has become a lot more diverse in recent years and with that, we have seen companies start to use apprenticeship programs to expand beyond career technical training and include white-collar professions and occupations such as finance and aerospace.
This shift can be seen throughout the country with professional service firms like Aon and Accenture adapting apprenticeships for more white-collar work within their apprenticeship networks in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and London. Through their partnerships, with many educational institutions, the firm’s partnership has created a talent pipeline of skilled workers who can successfully excel in their fields.
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For years the stigma has deterred many young workers from trade schools as many apprenticeships are associated with the blue-collar trades and synonymous with construction or hard skills like welding or woodwork, though this mindset has shifted as apprenticeships have adapted significantly in recent years to expand into a plethora of different occupations. The Department of Labor says “More than 90 percent of workers who complete an apprenticeship earn an average of $70,000 annually, and 94 percent are retained in employment six months after completion”.
For many young people, one of the main deterrents of choosing to attend a vocational school or completing an apprenticeship is that the trades are thought of as lesser, and some entry-level positions don’t interest others, yet the expansion of these programs has seen significant financial growth in the industry. Now participants of various tech field apprenticeships cover topics like coding and can see their participants making six figures in the years following the completion of their program.
The U.S. government has seen a significant influx of apprenticeship grants across the country as states like California, Texas, and North Carolina take lead in the growth and expansion of apprenticeship programs, receiving grants of more than $10 million to expand and diversify their programs. Apprenticeships can provide their participants with valuable networking opportunities and create a pathway to a full-time position while classroom instruction in many registered apprenticeship programs provides apprentices a chance to simultaneously pursue college credit.
In North Carolina, the state saw its community college system take over its apprenticeship programs in 2017. Since then they have seen participation in these programs double and has pushed the state to the forefront of workforce training programs.
“As employers face a tight labor market now and anticipate an ever-evolving labor market in the coming decades hiring alone won’t be enough to source and retain productive workers. Registered apprenticeships will be a critical strategy for employers to bring on employees who can contribute to their company right away while growing into their most skilled and in-demand positions.”
Deborah Kobes, Senior Director at JFF
Apprenticeship programs like these will help to support companies immensely as the growing skilled worker shortage continues to reach all-time highs. Government funding will increase the area's talent pool of skilled workers creating a new workforce ready to take on entry-level jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor released in a recent statement that there is an availability of around $87.5 million in grants available for the purpose of expanding Registered Apprenticeships across the country. There was also said to be up to $40 million in funds that could be awarded to states that work to implement certain diversity requirements.