How Apprenticeships Are Helping Close Today's Skills Gaps

Posted by Penn Foster on January 2, 2019

Apprenticeships have almost reached the status of a buzzword in the discussion over how to close the skills gap. State Senators are introducing bills to make apprenticeships more accessible to high school students. Meanwhile, officials in Maryland are expanding a high school apprenticeship program that started in two counties out to the rest of the state.

And while connecting high school students with apprenticeships is critical, many employers are also introducing or expanding their own apprenticeship programs - as they seek to turn entry level employees into masters in their field.

You could say that apprenticeships have gone back to their roots.

Everything old is new again

Anybody who has ever taken a European history class has an idea of what apprenticeships are. In the old days apprentices learned in the workplace from masters in their craft.

The modern apprenticeship is more likely to combine classroom or online learning with on-the-job training to give employees both theoretical and working knowledge of the industry. But the principle remains - employees work while increasing the skills and expertise essential to success in their field.

Many modern businesses draw their knowledge of apprenticeships from the books of Charles Dickens, or you may recall learning that Ben Franklin was apprenticed to a printer and Paul Revere to a silversmith. But the history of apprenticeships actually starts long before the colonial era.

They became popular with the medieval craft guilds of the Middle Ages when upper class parents used to send their children to live with a host family and learn a trade. Early versions of the apprenticeship relationship can be seen in the Code of Hammurabi and the structure of the late Roman Empire.

The UK has historically embraced apprenticeships. (Though numbers started falling in May of 2016 when a new levy was introduced.)  In 2017/2018, more than 912,200 people participated in apprenticeships in the UK, up 12,800 over the previous year.

By comparison, the United States has far fewer apprentices. In 2017, there were only 533,607 active apprentices. That's almost 400,000 fewer apprentices in a country with nearly 5 times the people.

However, trends over the last five years indicate that the United States may well catch up to the UK. Since 2013, the number of apprentices in the United states has grown 42% and that increase is on track to continue.

Why apprenticeships

Part of this growth may be due to the June 15, 2017 executive order supporting the expansion of apprenticeships in the United States. The order relaxed some of the requirements for programs, theoretically, making it easier for companies to introduce the programs they need.

Apprenticeship programs deliver attractive returns on investment for U.S. employers. Employees who have been involved in apprenticeship programs are less likely to leave. According to a Department of Labor fact sheet, 91% of apprentices stay at their employer after the program ends.

Companies like Siemens USA, realize a return on investment as high as 50%. Graduates from their apprenticeship programs are more flexible, finish work on time, and are generally more productive than their non-apprenticed coworkers.

According to a Economics and Statistics Administration report, in 13 case studies, all companies agreed that apprenticeships improved overall performance and gave them a competitive edge. They saw the biggest improvements in production, talent pipeline, and soft skills.

Modern apprenticeship models

Many people associate apprenticeships with high school students or recent graduates who intend to go into electrical, plumbing, or other trade work. While high school apprenticeships are a useful tool, people of all ages and education levels can benefit from an apprentice program.

Employers are seeing the value of apprenticeships as a training tool for new and tenured employees alike. The internships are as diverse as the companies that provide them:

  • A.West Electrical Contractors faced a growing skills gap due to lack of skills training in local schools. They partnered with Penn Foster to develop a 4-year remote learning apprenticeship program. Graduates of the program earn the credential of Journeyman Electrician. To date, 58 of their 65 employees received this training.
  • Plastic Molding Technology Inc. recently relaunched their apprenticeship program. Their goal is to train up apprentices in mechatronics, tooling, quality and processing. Their earlier program, launched in 1995, produced a maintenance worker who eventually became the company's chief maintenance engineer.

Many companies are choosing to register their apprentice programs either with the federal government or with officially recognized state agencies. Registering your apprenticeship verifies that your program fulfills national and state standards, which give employees access to tuition support, tax credits, federal resources and more.

Equipping your company for an apprenticeship program

As Ryan Craig pointed out in his editorial for The Hill, reducing legislative barriers to apprenticeships doesn't remove all challenges. Companies will need to find the budgets, and manpower to make apprentice programs a reality.

While a government-mandated solution would lift the burden on employers, ultimately, businesses don't have time to wait. They need qualified employees to start training now.

Start building your workforce by first assessing their needs and the needs of your business. The best thing about an apprenticeship program is that it's customizable. Schedule a complimentary upskilling diagnostic to help you identify skills gaps and upskilling opportunities.

Apprenticeships are a two-pronged system: on-the-job training and related coursework. Your business, like the ones listed above, can partner with education providers, technical schools and training partners to help create instructional models that support on-the-job training.

Looking for an education provider who can help you create a customized training solution for your employees? At Penn Foster, our team can work with your organization to design an apprenticeship program and seamlessly navigate the registration process.

Penn Foster offers apprenticeship solutions aligned with over 35 occupational pathways, in fields including electronics, manufacturing, industrial maintenance, building trades, and more.