Buried among the many controversial headlines surrounding the young Trump presidency was quiet news of a “Presidential Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America.” The policy set forth in the order was to “…to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and effective workforce development programs…” The order defined an apprenticeship as “…an arrangement that includes a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.” Among other specific details, the methods of expanding apprenticeships described in the order include creating funding, access, and promotions of existing and new programs. The president signed the order on June 15, 2017. As 2018 draws to a close, we decided to take a look at the current state of apprenticeship programs in our country.
If you’re visiting this website, we probably don’t need to convince you of the potential for apprenticeships to help put more people to work in stable, well-paying careers and to help close the skills gap. Well, whether the president’s order is having an effect or not, it seems that government and private industry together are quietly at work putting apprenticeships to use for just these reasons. A look at Department of Labor statistics is encouraging and the government website apprenticeship.gov is a well maintained and helpful resource for employers interested in creating a formal apprenticeship program or individuals considering an apprenticeship as a path to job security in a rewarding career.
To expand on the definition of the executive order, apprenticeships are typically long-term, paid training programs. Apprentices learn on-the-job and the training is sometimes coordinated with academic study, particularly when the apprentice is preparing for a licensing test. Whether the trade requires a license or not, a formal apprenticeship often results in certification or entry into a union. Some apprenticeship programs work in partnership with colleges and universities to offer credit towards a degree. According to the US Department of Labor’s website apprenticeship.gov, the following benefits make apprenticeships a desirable path to a solid career:
- Pay, right away: Not only are apprenticeships paid, but participants get raises with time and skills developed and may even receive benefits through the program.
- You get credentialed: Depending on the industry, this may be in the form of a degree or certificate, but most formal apprenticeships result in credentials for the participant.
- Upward movement: With a solid start to their resume, a successful apprentice is poised for advancement in his or her trade of choice.
- A range of potential Hands-on apprenticeships are available in industries from construction to computer technology.
- Academic credit: Some apprentices are not only earning a pay check, they are also earning credit towards a college or university degree.
- Who you know always helps: Along with the skills to do the job well, apprentices meet potential employers and colleagues who will know first-hand how capable and reliable they are.
While the construction trades still have the most apprentices, other industries are starting to take to the potential of formal apprenticeship programs. The top three trades in terms of number of apprentices are electricians, carpenters, and construction craft laborers, according to the Department of Labor, and about 20 out of the top 30 fields are in or related to construction. However, also on the list are telecommunications professionals, firefighters, cooks, pharmacy support staff, and other a few other non-construction fields. And in their more exhaustive list of apprenticeship opportunities, the Department of Labor lists many interesting fields including accordion maker, wine maker, wellness coach, air transport pilot, motorcycle mechanic, screen printer, taxidermist, health information technology specialist, and hundreds more.
In 2017 there were 375,000 active apprentices in the US, today there are 533,607, which is 125% higher than the previous 20-year average. At 62,694 California has more than three-times as many apprentices than any other state, but all states have programs. A glance at the “News & Information” page apprenticeship.com reveals stories of apprentices training to prevent cyber-attacks, new programs at Tyson Foods and a South Carolina BMW manufacturing facility, and the announcements of many new apprenticeship programs particularly in tech and health care.
In spite of all of the news of unfilled skilled jobs scattered throughout many industries and across the country and the result of labor shortages driving costs up the costs of various goods and services, this is all very promising news. As the executive order points out, “Higher education…is becoming increasingly unaffordable. …many colleges and universities fail to help students graduate with the skills necessary to secure high paying jobs in today’s workforce. Far too many individuals today find themselves with crushing student debt and no direct connection to jobs.”
Given all of these facts, it’s hard to argue with the potential of more and better apprenticeship programs. If you are in an industry with the opportunity to sponsor an apprenticeship program or are interested in becoming an apprentice, we recommend apprenticeship.gov as a great place to start.