Apprenticeships: One Way to Create a Work-Ready Talent Pool

Leaders in private, public sectors discuss a renaissance in apprenticeship programs

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 24, 2016
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​Apprenticeships can bridge the skills gap by training people—especially youth—for the millions of jobs that go unfilled, but the cultural stigma that still clouds such programs must be overcome, according to speakers at a recent summit in Washington, D.C.

Global hospitality company Hilton Worldwide is among organizations taking that step. On Oct. 6, it pledged to set up the first U.S. apprenticeship system in tourism and to launch 370 apprenticeship positions over the next five years in areas such as culinary arts and housekeeping. Hilton made the pledge at a meeting of the Global Apprenticeships Network (GAN), a coalition of companies, employer federations, associations and international organizations working to promote quality apprenticeships and work-readiness programs around the world.

"The hotel and hospitality area is not something you ordinarily think of [for apprenticeships], but the nature of the work and the nature of jobs [in that industry] are changing," said Dan Marshall, legislative and policy specialist for workforce issues and director of the Working for America Institute of the AFL-CIO.

He was among speakers at the summit that drew people from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Malawi, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States to discuss apprenticeships as a solution to youth unemployment in a way that ensures training matches company and industry needs. The summit was preceded by a private discussion at the White House that included Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, and Matthew Colangelo, who serves as an economic policy advisor to the president. 

Apprenticeships in the U.S. often are associated with manufacturing jobs and vocational training that is an alternative to a four-year college degree. However, apprenticeships are being created in other sectors, summit speakers noted. For example:

  • IBM has created a three-year training program for business or technical specialists in which apprentices are considered for permanent employment. 
  • Nestle offers apprenticeships and traineeships in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere. 
  • MasterCard Foundation's Youth Livelihoods program prepares young people for entry-level employment or entrepreneurship in the fields of agribusiness, health, hospitality and construction. 
  • Samsung Tech Institutes provide technical training in areas such as software development and computer programming. In 2014, Samsung launched a two-year web designer training program in France.
"Business leaders can be the best ambassadors for these programs. We have crisscrossed the globe to learn about the [apprenticeship] models in other countries," said Christopher P. Lu, deputy secretary for the Department of Labor (DOL).

"We need to look for opportunities to move [apprenticeships] into different types of careers," he added. The DOL's Registered Apprenticeship program offers access to 1,000 career areas that can lead to jobs such as a pipefitter, carpenter and electrician, as well as chef, dental assistant, fire and medical professional, law enforcement agent, and child care development specialist.

Getting Young Workers Involved

One challenge is "changing the mindsets of parents, guidance counselors [and] students," Lu said. Businesses and schools need to create on- and off-ramps to careers and offer apprenticeships as educational components so students "have a credential and a pathway for a four-year degree" if desired, he said.

He noted that in 2015, the DOL awarded $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants to organizations to help train and hire more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth, high-tech industries such as health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing within the next five years.

And at the summit, the DOL Bureau of International Labor Affairs announced it was awarding GAN $1.4 million over two years to support global apprenticeships. The DOL also will encourage U.S.-based and international apprenticeship networks to share best practices, according to a news release about the award.

"Youth unemployment is a global problem," Lu said, "and work-based learning is a part of that solution."

Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the SHRM affiliate Council for Global Immigration (CFGI), concurred. Businesses as well as young workers will profit from apprenticeships, she told SHRM Online.

"The skills gap impacts employers of all sizes and all industries around the globe," she said. "It is exciting to see the GAN and DOL working with employers to prepare youth for the jobs of the future."

Shotwell noted that "SHRM members can tap into these existing networks to help grow their own talent pipelines" and pointed to the DOL website as a source for information on grants and a variety of apprenticeship models being used.

Jennifer Mishory, executive director and a founding staff member at Young Invincibles—a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit representing the interests of people ages 18 to 34 years old—said young people need to be educated about apprenticeships.

They often cannot afford to take an unpaid internship that would help them gain the experience that employers seek, and they may be unaware that apprenticeships are an "earn while you learn" program, she said. They also may not realize that apprenticeships can prepare them for the modern-day workforce and think an apprenticeship program would mean forgoing college.

She recommended promoting apprenticeships by:

  • Using graduates of apprenticeships as ambassadors.  
  • Making sure young people know that apprenticeships are paid opportunities. Some employers, such as banking company UBS, offer their apprentices benefits equivalent to what permanent employees receive.  
  • Using social media to promote apprenticeships.

Linda Kromjong, secretary general of the International Organization of Employers, called upon schools to build in apprenticeship opportunities as part of their curriculums. And employers should be willing to hire an apprentice over a candidate who does not have similar training, said Ned McCulloch, global issues manager for skill development and education at IBM's governmental program function.

National Apprenticeship Week begins Nov. 14.

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