Get a Grip on Apprenticeships

Per the American Rescue Plan, announced by President Biden and Vice President Harris on February 17, 2021, registered apprentices will be vital in revitalizing infrastructure and contributing to new job creation. While apprenticeships may seem like an outdated practice, they are an old-school way to solve new-school problems. Apprenticeships are no longer just associated with skilled trades. Still, they have expanded into various new industries and professions, increasing your company’s growth as an alternative in your recruitment and hiring processes.  

What are Apprenticeships? 

Apprenticeships provide an alternative training opportunity into skilled professional careers. They usually consist of structured on-the-job training and technical instruction (may include classroom training). This combination is tailored specifically to the needs of the industry or profession. These apprenticeship programs vary in length of time depending on complexity or required training needed for the ultimate career. 

Apprenticeships were relatively common for skilled professionals prior to the modern era. However, since the mid-1900s, there has been a shift from apprenticeships into more formalized education such as college and other post-secondary schools, as college degrees have instead become the standard for career white-collar jobs while apprenticeships remained more common for the blue-collar industries. While this shift has occurred, there are still opportunities for both ‘white’ and ‘blue’ collar professional careers available in today’s industries and occupations. Over a thousand occupations currently offer apprenticeships throughout the United States, including the traditional electrician, plumber, and carpentry. There are currently 6,315 active apprentices in 128 different occupations with 193 program sponsors in the State of Colorado. The industries that apprenticeships have expanded into include healthcare, information technology, advanced manufacturing, business operations, and financial services.  

Registered Apprenticeships 

There are two different types of apprenticeships: registered and industrial. For purposes of this article, registered internships will only be addressed. Registered apprenticeship (RAs) programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and Employment and overseen by individual state departments of labor. In the State of Colorado, the RAP is managed by the Division of Jobs and Training. RA Programs provide their apprentices with on-the-job training and related technical instruction. Apprentices receive incremental wage increases as skills are developed. Once completed, apprentices receive nationally recognized certification in the chosen occupation that can be transferred to different employers and amongst other RA-recognized states.  

Apprenticeship ≠ Internship 

Apprenticeships should not be confused with internships. The differences generally include the duration, structure, mentoring, pay, credentialing, and college credit (  

RA programs are delivered by sponsors. Sponsors are generally employers, employer associations, labor-management associations, community colleges, etc. In addition to being a sponsor, employers cover the cost of the training, wages paid to apprentices, the cost of managing the program, and costs associated with the time spent by senior employees to mentor and train apprentices.  

Apprentice Benefits  

According to a 2012 Mathematica Policy Research study, participants had substantially higher earnings than did non-participants; the social benefits appeared to be larger than the costs over the career of an apprentice; and female apprentices, who were vastly under-represented in the programs, reported the RA was a pathway to career advancement and higher pay. (Reed, 2012). Although retention was not addressed in this particular study, the Colorado Department of Labor has reported that companies retained up to 91% of the apprentices who completed the program. However, it should be acknowledged the retention of women and people of color is still very poor in some industries such as information technology indicating the need for additional employer intervention to encourage retention and realize the full potential benefits of an RA program. 

Employer Benefit 

The benefits of RAs to employers are both tangible and non-tangible. The incorporation of RAs can address issues surrounding human capital, diversity, equity, inclusion, and succession planning. Employers’ more obvious benefits include a stable and reliable pipeline of qualified workers, flexible training options that ensure workers develop the right skills, and minimization of liability costs through appropriate training of workers. In addition, some employers have reported increased retention of workers during and following the apprenticeship as such programs have created employee loyalty.  

Colorado employers are eligible for the tax incentives promoted through the Offices of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) because of the growth of their businesses due to RAs or their decision to move to Colorado, etc. Several grant programs in the state support both employers, apprentices, and related instruction providers. All RAs are also automatically eligible to register with Colorado’s Eligible Training Provider List (EPL) upon registration with USDOL, making the programs eligible for workforce funding. 

For employers, while there is a tremendous emphasis on short-term performance, the excellence playbook is more complicated than the ‘post, hope, pray’ method of recruitment and hiring. Excellence involves varying strategies for attracting and retaining skilled, dedicated, and passionate employees. Apprenticeships can be one more golden strategy for your business’ excellence playbook. 

For more information on apprenticeships, please refer to your state’s department of labor or workforce services.