The New Face of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships, the old-school-ish training model once only common in construction and manufacturing has spread into health care, insurance, and many other industries thanks to its workforce cultivation benefits.


Most would associate apprenticeships, a teaching model that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction, a development strategy for the construction industry. But apprenticeships are sporting a new face thanks to a host of industries such as insurance and healthcare that are giving it a fresh look.

Companies such as Aon and Zurich point to benefits that range from a more loyal and better-trained workforce, to students emerging with training relevant to the needs of the market and no education-based debt. These companies recognize that apprentices represent a valuable investment in the skills that can put a worker on a proven path to success and get the job done for employers and businesses looking to grow and expand.

According to the Department of Labor, the number of registered apprentices jumped from 375,425 in 2013 to 447,929 in 2015, and of those more than 200,000 workers became new apprentices in 2015. The apprenticeship model also received a big boost under President Obama, who in 2014, set a goal to double the number of apprenticeships between 2014 and 2019.

There has even been support from Congress. Sens. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, have introduced S. 574 – Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs Act, a bill which would allow employers to claim a tax credit  for participating in qualified apprenticeship programs.

The Ultimate Learning Job

Apprenticeships help people upgrade their skills and keep pace with the demands of the 21st century. Today, in part thanks to strong cooperation between labor and management, 87 percent of apprentices find employment after completing their programs, and their average starting wage is more than $50,000. Over the course of their lifetimes, workers who complete an apprenticeship may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more than their peers who do not.

The return is good for employers, too. They see increased productivity, reduced waste and greater innovation. Apprenticeships also increase the number of highly skilled workers in in-demand industry sectors, and they create opportunities for workers to gain professional credentials.

According to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships produce highly skilled employees. Once established, apprenticeship programs also reduce turnover rates, increase productivity, and enhance safety in the workplace thanks to training curriculums that are specifically created to meet the organization’s needs.

For example, many electric power companies have strong apprenticeship programs to help them address a looming workforce shortage. Common stats suggest nearly one-third of utility workers are eligible to retire in the next five to seven years. Utilities across the country partner with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning’s (CAEL) initiative the Energy Providers Coalition for Education, (EPCE) a collaboration of utility employers, education providers, associations, and labor working together since 2001 to develop, sponsor, and promote efficient and cost-effective online education and training solutions geared to build and enhance energy workforce capacity. [Editor’s note: The author works for CAEL] EPCE provides online education that is accredited, industry-backed and leveraged into apprenticeship programs and is working to bring awareness of the importance of apprenticeships in building a well-trained, well-skilled, ready-to-work labor force.

EPCE also partners with the National Energy Center of Excellence at Bismarck State College (BSC) to provide apprentices with a core set of skills and competencies, as well as a foundation in electrical systems, transformers and electric components. EPCE supports the coursework development through a national curriculum committee made up of representatives from major utilities and industry organizations. Further, based on core training standards established at Westminster, Colorado-based wholesale electric power supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, EPCE helps enhance its four-year, blended learning apprenticeship program using selected online courses from BSC’s Electric Power Technology Program.

In this blended learning apprenticeship model, apprentices take online college courses developed by EPCE employers’ industry subject matter experts as part of their required related technical instruction. These online college courses are specifically tied to the on-the-job learning competencies and objectives, and are delivered in concert with each level of the registered apprenticeship program.

Employers benefit from the program in a variety of ways. First, it reduces the employer’s training burden because the staff can focus resources towards the hands-on training requirements. Further, apprentices are ready and knowledgeable for each level of their apprenticeship program. They demonstrate and apply their knowledge from the online related training instruction to journeyman while completing their on-the-job learning.

Apprentices also understand the career benefits. Less than 10 percent of apprentices drop from the program, and more than 90 percent successfully complete the online college courses aligned to the apprenticeship program. Upon successful completion of the apprenticeship program, apprentices have college credit and are on their way to earning an associate’s college degree.

Apprenticeships Gaining Popularity

Perhaps the most unexpected growth in apprenticeships can be seen in industries such as insurance that typically don’t use the model but are now embracing it to help cultivate a more talented and diverse workforce. Aon, a global risk management, insurance and human resources solutions company, is building an apprenticeship model in the U.S. that mirrors the success of its longtime apprenticeship work in the UK.

According to Aaron Olson, Aon’s chief talent officer, to launch its apprenticeship program, the company is partnering with City Colleges of Chicago’s Harold Washington College to offer students the opportunity to earn their associates degree while getting on-the-job experience. Students in the apprenticeship program will spend 20 hours in the classroom and 20 working each week over a two-year period. They will be paid for their work, and their education will be subsidized. Aon will launch its U.S. apprenticeship program in January 2017.

A member of Business Champions for Credential Completion, a group of top companies across the United States working together to encourage credential completion, Aon leaders believe that apprenticeship programs also can help close the projected worker shortage gap. In a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the nation is currently on track, by 2020, to have a shortage of 5 million workers with postsecondary credentials. Apprenticeship programs can deliver a steady stream of skilled talent who understand both the culture and needs of an organization.

Aon is so committed to the apprenticeship model it has been calling for other major employers to create apprenticeship programs as well. Senior executives from the company, Zurich North America and Deputy U.S. Secretary of Labor Chris Lu recently met with senior executives from a variety of Chicago-based insurance and financial services companies to discuss the benefits of developing an industry-wide apprenticeship program. At the meeting, Chicago-area leaders from 15 major firms including JPMorgan Chase, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Mesirow Financial, among others, discussed working together to establish an apprenticeship model for the financial services and insurance industries, starting in Chicago.

The jobs created by apprenticeship programs like the one at Aon lead to long-term. Olson said some of the Chicago-meeting attendees said they started out in their careers as apprentices. “It is true that the apprenticeship model creates jobs. But over time what you’re really looking at is a system that holds the promise of delivering long term, well-paying and highly satisfying careers.”

There’s good news for smaller organizations interested in pursuing an apprenticeship program but perhaps lacking the financial resources needed to create it. According to the Department of Labor, Federal workforce and education funds can help many businesses undertake new investments in apprenticeships, encourage more employers to provide high skilled training opportunities for apprentices, and assist educators and intermediaries in strengthening the tie between training and employment through apprenticeship.

A new day is dawning for this time-tested, apprenticeship training programs. They can help to cultivate a pool of talent equipped with the organization or industry-specific skills and training, who are already well versed in an organization’s culture. At the same time, learning leaders can create a powerful opportunity for a student who will receive a post-secondary education and full-time work experience that could lead to a satisfying life-long career.

Lynn Schroeder is vice president of client relations for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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