How to Get the Most Out of a Workforce Apprenticeship Program

SOURCE: AEM | May 1, 2021

Workforce apprenticeship programs are one of the most beneficial investments organizations can make today.

In addition to enabling employers to build the skilled workforce of tomorrow, apprenticeships offer a wealth of additional benefits, including:

  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced turnover
  • Employee retainment
  • Increased diversity

Certain states offer tax credits to employers that offer apprenticeship programs. Any size company can offer an apprenticeship program, and partners and resources exist to help organizations set up the program and provide guidance and curriculum. According to an AEM Workforce survey of industry members, apprenticeships are one of the most effective workforce development strategies available. 

There are two main types of apprenticeship programs:

A Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is a proven model of apprenticeship that has been validated by the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Agency. There are additional benefits offered to employers of all sizes for offering these programs, which include free technical assistance, access to a nationwide network of expertise, national credentialing for participants, pre-identified quality standards, tax credits, federal funds and resources and specialized recruiting incentives for veterans.

An Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP) is a high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized as such by a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) pursuant to the Department of Labor’s standards. An IRAP is developed or delivered by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations. The last administration created IRAP’s as an attempt to streamline standards across industries using  Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) to ensure the learning outcomes identified in the program match the industry need. Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP) must deliver programs that meet the educational outcomes identified by the SRE. This formally recognized educational alignment between industry and education (standards) that is necessary in an IRAP is what sets it apart from a Recognized Apprenticeship Program (RAP).  Existing IRAPs and SRE’s will continue however, with the administration change, the focus of apprenticeship programs has returned to the Registered Apprenticeship Programs. While IRAPS allow for greater flexibility in standing up apprenticeships, the long-term viability of these programs is uncertain due to a recent Executive Order that directs federal agencies to rescind the regulatory framework that created IRAPS. RAPs are recognized by the Department of Labor, and they may be an easier starting place than IRAPs.

Find out more about the benefits of apprenticeship programs, how to get started, and additional related information by visiting the AEM Workforce Solutions Toolkit.

Current Outlook and Helpful Resources

According to the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship website:

  • 785,000 + new apprentices since January 1, 2017
  • 94% of apprentices stay with their employers after completing their program
  • The Department of Labor has invested $265 million to expand apprenticeships since 2015

There are many resources to tap into along the way, so there’s no need for organizational leaders to figure things out on their own. In addition to checking out the Department of Labor’s website, one of the best places to start is “A Quick-Start Toolkit: Building Registered Apprenticeship Programs.” The strategies suggested here are based on a blend of their recommendations, along with the best practice recommendations from research and articles that can be found in the Apprenticeship Action Plan in AEM’s Workforce Solutions Toolkit.

  • Take some time to investigate apprenticeships to see if it’s the right strategy.

Take the necessary time to explore and research the apprenticeship process before committing. A decision to engage in an apprenticeship program should not be determined by the size of an organization. However, an apprenticeship program should fit into a company’s workforce strategy, and identifying internal support to properly manage a program is critical. Then determine if there is an available target audience to participate in the program. Knowing the best population pool to tap into will ensure the program will be able to secure participants.

Be aware there are annual reporting and support requirements that will need to be met. These responsibilities can be taken on by outside facilitators, if needed. Using a partner to manage annual reporting and support requirements can be an easier way for small companies to set up an apprenticeship – especially if they are only looking for one or two participants. Some of these facilitators will assist in setting up a program from start to finish and have access to federal funding to keep expenses down.

In addition, determine if existing apprentice programs exist that can be utilized, so as to avoid articulating learning standards.

  • Don’t go it alone.

Unless an organization has its own training and development staff, partners will need to be enlisted to help build an apprenticeship program. Common local partners include high schools, technical schools, and other workforce/community-based organizations. These organizations can offer a range of classes on topics, including math and language skills, job readiness, boot camps, job shadowing, and peer groups. They may also offer services such as childcare, transportation, uniforms and tools.

There are resources that exist to support smaller organizations that want to set up apprenticeship programs and are looking for one or two apprentices. For those organizations just getting started, tapping into support systems set up to help apprenticeship programs develop will save time and frustration.

Two examples of a national facilitating programs are Apprenticeship Works!, run through the Robert C. Byrd Institute and JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-based Learning. The Apprenticeship Works! program is funded by a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labo. JFF is partnered with the Department of Labor and is set up to work with businesses, intermediaries, government agencies and educational institutions to develop, scale, and promote programs that will work for participants.

  • Determine the core of what’s needed.

Apprenticeship programs span educational instruction, on-the-job training, mentoring, recognition that acknowledges skills gain, and completion resulting in credentialing. As you decide what training is needed, don’t start from scratch. Be aware of the existing body of work that offers foundations for you to build upon such as advanced manufacturing

  • Register the apprenticeship program.

Once an apprenticeship program is decided upon, key stakeholders are identified, core learning outcomes are established, it’s time to register the apprenticeship program. A guided registration process can be found here.

Registering the program with the Department of Labor or State Apprenticeship Agency will lead to additional resources, tax credits, technical assistance and the nationally recognized credential participants receive at the end of the program.

  • Get started.

Apprenticeship may seem too big to undertake. However, taking the process step by step can make it more manageable. More importantly, don’t forget funding and partners that can help simplify the process.

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