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Nov 16, 2022

In case you didn’t realize it, this week – 13-19th November – is National Apprenticeship Week – a seven day diary of initiatives and announcements dedicated to championing and raising awareness of the apprenticeship route into employment.

Some say it couldn’t come at a more prescient time.

For despite the Biden administration’s new Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative targeting creating 10,000 new apprenticeships in the next 12 months, the consensus has long been that apprenticeships still suffer something of an image problem amongst employers.

Take Department of Labor data showing the amount of active apprentices in the US. Although it increased from 375,000 in 2013 to 633,625 in 2019, the reality was that the vast majority were still in traditional skilled trades (such as plumbing or electrical work), rather than so-called ‘white-collar apprenticeships’.

In fact electricians, carpenters, plumbers, sprinkler fitters and construction craft laborers account for one-quarter of all active apprentices. The construction industry hoovers up 25% of all apprentices, followed by 13% from manufacturing and 10% in technology. The Fortune 500, by comparison, has just 6% of its workforce comprising apprentices, while in the finance and media sectors it’s even less (5% and 2% respectively). To make matters worse, the percentage of female apprentices has increased by just 0.3 percentage points since 2010.

Putting this into context

To put these figures into some sort of perspective, the uncomfortable truth is that despite moves to expand the numbers of apprenticeship programs, just 0.3% of the overall workforce in America will have completed an apprenticeship this year.

Although President Trump passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021, it’s still the case that the number of active apprentices has barely changed since 2008, meaning net growth in numbers is not being seen. Commentators blame a lack of knowledge about them from employers, complexity setting them up, not enough certainty around the long-term benefits of employers running them, and the not insubstantial problem of the social stigma attached to those who don’t want to pursue an academic degree.

A change of mindset is needed

So what needs to change? According to Paula Mathias-Fryer, senior director, SLO Partners, which designs boot-camp style training that prepares workers for apprenticeship schemes, there needs to be a significant mindset change amongst employers.

Speaking exclusively to TLNT she said: “There is a huge appetite to get people into ‘in-demand’ jobs – particularly those in Silicon Valley. But while the likes of Google and IBM and others in the technology run their own successful internal apprenticeship programs there is still a challenge to change the mentality of the majority of employers.”

She adds: “It doesn’t help that the documentation side of things is still largely unchanged – I’ve seen some that require employers to wade through 100 pages or more – but it’s really key that employers start to see apprenticeships as their solution to the talent shortages most say they have.”

Apprentices aren’t just cheap labor

According to Mathias-Fryer, what employers really need to do is ‘not’ just see apprenticeships as “cheaper labor”, but as “ways to open up and strengthen their talent pipeline.”

She argues that not only do apprentices tend to stay longer (official data suggests 33% of apprentices have a tenure of 1-2 years, while 13% stay for 3-4 years, and 11% stay for 5-7 years), but they also attract more diverse people too, and those with different life experiences. Some 7.7% of apprentices are black or African American; 18.5% of apprentices are Hispanic or Latino and 2.2% of apprentices are Asian.

Best of all, she says, young people actively ‘want’ employers to offer apprentice options to them. “People are tired of the prospect of leaving college with so much debt,” she says. “College debt is now at a level where it will take most of a person’s career now to pay it off. People are actively looking at apprenticeships as a better entry point into work, and employers should appreciate the broader range of people looking at them.”

In addition to this (and what’s also a common misconception), says Mathias-Fryer, is that most people who want to do apprentices already have some professional experience. In other words they are not purely school leavers either, but are hose who already know how to behave in the workplace, and have good soft skills.

This is supported by official data that suggests that average age of an apprentice is actually 42. They comprise, says Mathias-Fryer, people who actively want to reskill and who are highly motivated.

See beyond the red tape…

Says Mathias-Fryer: “Because apprenticeships do come with government paperwork, it can be easy for employers just to see the red tape.” She adds: “What’s also the case is that employers fear they will be subject to different hiring rules – such as not being able to terminate their employment if they need to. But the fact is, an apprentice really is no different from a normal hire – they just need a bit of extra support and encouragement.”

…and enjoy the benefits

 If more employers do take the plunge, the benefits could be huge. Data last month from the American Apprenticeship Initiative (AAI), found the outcomes of apprentices themselves are better (on average, annual earnings across all AAI apprentices grew by 49%, rising from $35,408 in the year before they started to $52,876 one year after program exit); while other race or non-Hispanic apprentices had the highest earnings growth (86%).

According to new report, Professional Apprenticeships: Defining a New Way to Train and Hire for Today’s Employerspublished this week to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week, 90% of apprentices say they are happy with their career choices, while 81% are happy with their opportunities for progression and 73% rank their career prospects higher than their peers.

 Employers benefit too. Data from the likes of the National Restaurant Association this week revealed that apprentice employees stay longer and are ready for promotion into management-level roles sooner.

So, what one message does Mathias-Fryer have – yep, you’ve guessed it, give apprenticeship programmes a go: “Just try them,” she says. “Companies that do will get more resumes from a more diverse set of people. It’s a win-win for all.”

Apprentices: What the statistics say:

  • The average Apprentice is 43 years old. Some 58% of Apprentices are 40+ years old or older, 26% are between the ages of 30-40 years, and 16% are between 20-30 years old
  • The most common foreign language among apprentices is Spanish at 54.8%. The second-most popular foreign language spoken is French at 11.1% and German is the third-most popular at 7.7%.
  • The most common ethnicity among apprentices is white, which makes up 69.3% of all apprentices. There are 18.5% of the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity and 7.7% of the Black or African American ethnicity.
  • Some 21.6% of apprentices are women and 78.4% of apprentices are men.
  • Apprentices are 72% more likely to work at private companies in comparison to public companies.