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Your business has a skills gap to close. You have positions to fill. You have a turnover problem.
You also have a potential solution: An apprenticeship program.
No longer the 19th Century system for training blacksmiths, apprenticeship programs today can be smart, cost-saving 21st century solutions to help you grow the skills you need in the employees you want.
Just ask the leaders – and successful apprentices – at Microsoft, CVS Pharmacy or Lockheed Martin, and the nearly two million apprentices who’ve gained skills in a federal program since 2011. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there were 26,000 apprenticeship programs nationwide as of 2020, a 73 percent jump in just over a decade.
Four reasons why
There are plenty of reasons employees and companies are jumping on the apprenticeship bandwagon. Here are four:
- Serious savings. You may be paying for on-the-job training, but if you work within Department of Labor guidelines, you’re paying a significantly lower wage than for a traditional employee. There also are significant efficiencies: An apprentice being trained by your business for your job doesn’t have to undo bad habits picked up from prior employers. Training can be tailored to fit your company’s skill gap.
- Tangible benefits. This year the U.S. Department of Labor, hoping to broaden apprenticeship opportunities, gave $121 million to bolster “earn-and-learn” partnerships nationwide. So, depending on the program you participate in, and where you’re located, linking up with the Department of Labor may qualify you for significant grant dollars. Those dollars might cover 75 percent of an apprentice’s pay for up to six months, or they may reimburse you for 75 percent of your training and supervision costs.
In addition to federal help, many states also offer tax credits for apprenticeship programs. More information on state programs is here.
While many apprenticeship programs are designed to fill entry-level positions, there literally are hundreds of professions that qualify for federal contributions, from nannies and nurse practitioners to air conditioner installers and software developers. Right now the Labor Department is boosting a Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint, with extra aid for employers seeking help in the IT Department, but different jobs are promoted with different programs as need arises.
- Everyone wins. Unlike internships, where a student is assigned for a few months to a variety of projects, an apprentice works full time on a specific job – albeit performing at a lower level, at least in the beginning – in exchange for a discounted wage. When the six-, 12- or 18-month apprenticeship period ends, you get a grateful employee trained in the exact skills you need. That employee gets a paid position and may also receive a certificate or degree.
- Intangible benefits. Most federally sanctioned programs connect an apprenticeship with a pathway to a degree or certificate. So, not only do you get more money in your pocket, you also get a windfall of employee loyalty that helps reduce turnover. Apprenticeship programs build bonds and relationships between longtime and incoming employees.
There are strings attached, of course. With the grant money comes reporting requirements and oversight. There are upsides, however. Government programs often connect an apprenticeship program with a degree completion pathway, which can be a real loyalty-builder. And, the oversight comes with a roadmap for how to run an effective apprenticeship program.
Tips to make programs work
For an apprenticeship program to produce the results you want takes planning. Following are some dos and don’ts that can hold the keys to your success:
Do be clear on which roles will best fit an apprenticeship program. Usually that means entry level positions and skill-based roles.
Don’t go it alone. Partner with a company that specializes in establishing apprenticeships and knows how to navigate government regulations, including mandated pay scales. That can greatly reduce your company’s administrative burden. It’s an upfront expense. But it’s one that can save you time and money in the long run.
Do utilize the expertise of companies that can tap into networks and their own experience to help you recruit and select the right candidates for your program. Hiring an apprentice isn’t like hiring other employees; you can’t rely on acquired skills and experience. It’s important to identify apprenticeship candidates with the attitude and ambition to fit into your company’s unique culture.
Don’t limit your program to the traditional model that ends with training. Instead, connect your program with continued skills development, or with a degree completion component. These drive retention, boost loyalty, and maximize return on your investment.
Do take the long view. Training an apprentice takes time. But ultimately, the benefits are compounded and you’ve earned loyalty. And that spreads to other roles within the organization. That’s when you start unlocking value from that initial investment. Over time the trainee can progress and become the trainer – that’s when an apprenticeship program really can pay off.
The Labor Department says 93 percent of apprentices retain employment after completion of apprenticeship programs.
The bottom line: apprenticeships aren’t a silver bullet that will solve all your recruitment and retention problems. But they can be a valuable component in your workforce development strategy.
About the Author:
Leo Goncalves is Vice President, Workforce Solutions Group, for University of Phoenix, leading development and value delivery of the university’s B2B relationships. He has significant experience developing growth strategies, turning around business performance, and shaping initiatives to enhance customer satisfaction in education and other private and public sectors. Prior to joining the University of Phoenix, Leo served as Chief of Staff at Kaplan Higher Education Group. Leo has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Arts in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the Universidade Federal De Minas Gerais in Brazil.