Apprenticeships That Bridge Skills Gaps

Jobs without people. People without jobs. Employers know about the mismatch between the skills they need and the skills workers have. To address such gaps and prepare individuals to meet sophisticated talent needs, more organizations are implementing apprenticeships.

Whether your company already has an apprenticeship program or is contemplating one, here’s what you should consider to ensure you and your people get the most out of apprenticeships. 

The Modern Apprenticeship

Modern apprenticeships are a powerful option for recent high-school graduates, college grads, military veterans, and workers seeking a new start. They’re available in a broad range of 21st-century industries and occupations, from cybersecurity, healthcare, and data analytics to hospitality management, green sciences, engineering, and advanced manufacturing. (Check this official list of approved occupations for registered apprenticeships.)

Key components of modern apprenticeships include customized, supervised, and paid on-the-job training at reduced or no cost, as well as wages graduated in step with skills gained during training. Programs also vary in length depending on the employer and industry. Detailed work-based training components are determined by the employer or industry sponsors, and apprentices advance based on achieved competencies. Moreover, many workers who complete apprenticeships earn a nationally recognized qualification.

For example, Interapt, a software design and development company based in Louisville, Ky., is running a program called Interapt Skills. The program’s apprentices include career-changers, veterans, displaced workers, and recent high-school and college graduates. 

Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal explains that his company “recruits and hires software engineers, but it was difficult to draw senior-level people here. And because we’re a cutting-edge business in the service industry, college grads weren’t meeting our needs. They had lots of theoretical knowledge, but lack experience and skills in the latest software development tools.” 

The apprenticeship program, however, helps provide a supply of talent by blending classroom and on-the-job training with a strong mentorship component. 

Getting Started

An apprenticeship program should not be a one-size-fits-all proposition. Still, some steps in creating are fundamental: 

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  1. Identify the occupation in which you’re looking to create an apprenticeship.
  2. Assign an internal team, including people from direct service, middle management, and leadership, to develop and roll out the program.
  3. Work with external partners, like community colleges, high schools, civic and nonprofit groups, and state apprenticeship organizations.
  4. Outline the qualifications that candidates should possess.
  5. Determine core competencies and skills you’d like to develop in your talent.
  6. Identify mentors and coaches.
  7. Create on-the-job training goals (performance measures) and related curricula.
  8. Determine type of training and scalable wage schedules.
  9. Set up marketing and recruitment strategies.
  10. Develop ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and improvement processes based on feedback and outcomes.

It might sound like a lot for an employer to create a customized program from scratch, but a faster-track option would be to get some technical assistance. Many organizations, such as the Urban Institute, help schools, employers, and other stakeholders start and expand registered youth apprenticeship programs. Some also provide modest funding to help employers offset training and creation costs.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Department of Labor have set up a $20M partnership to create a revamped network of apprenticeships over the next few years. (Still, we need more employers to take up the challenge, join the job skills revolution, and create more apprenticeships.) 

Gopal also suggests making sure that you do an early skills test when you induct apprentices. That way, you’ve got a context for the amount of work they have to do to get up to speed. He additionally encourages employers to be transparent with apprentices from Day One about which skills they need to master and when they can advance up the pay scale.

“Consider having mentors on the team and plan for how they will be checking in with the apprentices,” Gopal recommends. “Also make sure you involve apprentices throughout the process, and give them exposure to discussions that they might not otherwise be invited to.”

Two years since Interapt launched its apprenticeship program, more than 40 companies — including Humana, Ernst & Young, and GE Appliances — have signed the program’s graduates. In other words, proof that apprenticeships can be a powerful match of skills and opportunities to move the economy forward.

Nicholas Wyman is a future work expert, author, speaker and president of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. He has been LinkedIn’s #1 Education Writer of the Year, too, and written an award-winning book, Job U, a practical guide to finding wealth and success by developing the skills companies actually need. Nicholas has an MBA and has studied at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship.

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