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CAEL Pathways Blog

Workforce Development Experts Weigh In on How To Make Apprenticeships Work for Everyone

A topic of ongoing interest across workforce development boards, postsecondary education institutions, and employers is apprenticeship programs. While formalized apprenticeship programs have existed in the United States for over a century, a resurgence of interest in these programs in recent decades has prompted many interested institutions to seek answers to basic questions about the model: what exactly defines an apprenticeship program? What are the strengths and benefits of this model? What are the stakeholders and roles required to successfully implement an apprenticeship program? 

At the 2022 CAEL conference, one of the workshop sessions consisted of a panel of apprenticeship program experts from a variety of backgrounds to discuss these questions and more. The resulting conversation was wide-ranging and rich, featuring insights from our chosen panel of apprenticeship program experts: Jessica Cracchiolo, director of external partnerships at Grant Associates; Eric Seleznow, senior workforce advisor at EMS Associates; Odette Flores-Ruiz, workforce program specialist at Workforce Solutions Borderplex; Jacob Maas, CEO at West Michigan Works!; and moderator Christopher Bernhardt, senior vice president of learning and development at Grant Associates. 

The potential promise of apprenticeship programs became clear early in this conversation, with Bernhardt noting that U.S. Department of Labor data show 93% of registered apprentices retaining employment after their apprenticeship completes, with the average salary of an apprentice at approximately $77,000 after completing their programs. With this capacity for facilitating economic mobility established, our panel of experts dove into the details of what an apprenticeship program is and what might make one successful. Seleznow began this portion of the discussion with a high-level overview of the history of apprenticeship in the U.S., highlighting that while apprenticeship programs have existed in some form since the first days of our country, the first federal legislation codifying the model came in 1937 with the passage of the National Apprenticeship Act. This legislation provided the basis for establishing standards of registered apprenticeship programs, which Seleznow stressed are a crucial component to successful programs by protecting the wellbeing of apprentices and providing quality controls for the program. 

Informed by his experience as CEO at West Michigan Works! (part of Michigan's primary statewide workforce development association, Michigan Works!), Maas led the subsequent portion of discussion, focusing on the role that intermediaries - like workforce development boards - play in establishing successful apprenticeship programs. He highlighted the importance of apprenticeship programs being industry-driven, pointing out that intermediaries can serve the critical function of convening employers across a region to understand sector-based talent needs and coordinating with training and education providers accordingly. Maas also noted that intermediaries such as workforce development boards can facilitate establishing apprenticeship programs by relieving the administrative burden that would otherwise fall on employers seeking better talent pipelines and pursuing funding opportunities to cover the cost of training for program participants.

One theme that emerged was that of common challenges to establishing apprenticeship programs, particularly in the integral work of engaging employer buy-in and participation. Odette Flores-Ruiz spoke to the importance of framing the apprenticeship program model in terms of benefit to employers, such as improved retention of skilled labor and assurance that new hires would be equipped with the right training to be successful on the job. Jessica Cracchiolo followed this with the observation that in her experience, employers are indeed receptive to the idea of an apprenticeship program if the conversation is centered on their specific talent gaps and employs a consultative approach that dives deep into company culture and needs. 

It was clear from this robust conversation that quality apprenticeship programs rely on ongoing and deep coordination between employers, and training or education providers, and potentially third parties such as workforce development boards. Yet while a successful apprenticeship model requires commitment and coordination across entities, the program model also has the capacity for meaningfully addressing problems of community prosperity and economic mobility that one entity could not address alone. The CAEL team was honored to host this distinguished panel of apprenticeship program experts at our 2022 conference, and encourages all who are interested to follow the tremendous work they are doing at their respective organizations. 

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