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Report: Apprenticeships, Career Pathways Can Fill Talent Pipeline

A person opens a office door


Many U.S. workers are stuck. Approximately 128 million workers—more than three-fourths of the workforce—are underemployed, in need of training, or in jobs with little opportunity for advancement and better pay, according to a recent report.

The lack of a college degree, regardless of the worker’s skill, may be holding them back, or they may not have had a chance to acquire additional skills within their existing job that would allow them to advance.

So, what’s the answer for filling the talent pipeline?

In Untapped Potential: How New Apprenticeship Approaches Will Increase Access to Economic Opportunity, Multiverse and The Burning Glass Institute (BGI) advocate for applying new apprenticeship models to the U.S. labor market. BGI is an independent nonprofit focused on the future of work and learning. Multiverse is a tech startup that offers professional apprenticeships to a diverse pool of individuals, including young adults and workers looking to upskill or reskill.

Such programs are “a singularly powerful mechanism for building skills and opportunities, step by step,” Multiverse and BGI noted in the report. However, U.S. employers, educators and others often view apprenticeships as only for trade skills such as welding and carpentry.

The number of apprenticeships is growing, acknowledged Asha Aravindakshan, Multiverse general manager, but “the language, the regulations—everything is catered toward the trades,” she said, referring to state-level Department of Labor paperwork for registered apprentice programs. Such apprenticeship programs address issues such as physical locations and hazardous working conditions. Nontrade apprenticeships, such as those that offer training in a virtual atmosphere, “don’t have the same amount of ‘real estate’” promoting them.

New approaches to apprenticeships are needed, the report noted. BGI and Multiverse evaluated the potential scope of apprenticeships beyond traditional trade occupations and identified 425 source occupations that typically don’t offer apprenticeships but have high potential to upskill workers for better jobs.

Among those source occupations, the research identified 149 “apprentice-ready occupations” in the U.S. that offer strong wages, are seeing a growing demand, and are accessible without a bachelor’s degree or a long career in the given field. Examples of these jobs are sales manager, software developer and HR specialist.

The research also identified around 3,000 paths to those 149 occupations based on skill and task similarity, the opportunity for a salary bump, and a history of people making these transitions. For example, a worker might go from an “apprentice-ready” job as administrative service manager to a medical service manager, a spokesperson explained.

“The greatest potential for apprenticeship is no longer in the trades but in a wide array of jobs that are emergent and growing in the knowledge economy,” researchers wrote in the report.

Filling the Experience Gap

There is movement in the U.S. to promote apprenticeships, in some cases focusing on overlooked sources of workers.

California’s 2022-2023 budget earmarked more than $231 million in apprenticeship-related spending in 2022 and more than $480 million over the next three years, according to the state’s Department of Industrial Relations.

That money included $175 million to create apprenticeship innovation funding for nontraditional programs, $65 million to create a youth apprenticeship grant program, $15 million to fund a unit that works to advance women in construction, and an increase of more than 30 percent to the reimbursement rate for training in building and construction apprenticeships.

New York City has a high school program offering two- to three-year apprenticeships in finance, technology and business operations that pay $15 to $25 per hour to students working 15 to 25 hours weekly. Employer partners include JPMorgan, EY, Accenture, Amazon, Mastercard and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Apprenticeships for youth are important, as this group needs exposure to skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, which is contributing to the job-experience gap by “transforming entry-level jobs, the menial work we used to do as we learned the ropes,” said Ryan Craig. He is the author of Apprentice Nation: How the “Earn and Learn” Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America (BenBella Books, 2023) and co-founder of Apprenticeships for America, a nonprofit aimed at scaling programs across the U.S.

Such entry-level or so-called first jobs “are now Tier 2 jobs that demand three years of experience. We saw that coming years ago. Colleges and universities either need to integrate real-world experience or evolve a rival earn-and-learn infrastructure that will deliver those skills and experiences.”

While internships can offer training for college students outside of the classroom, they are short-term, ranging from several months to an entire college semester; apprenticeships last from one to six years. Additionally, more than 40 percent of internships are unpaid, according to Craig, which can be an obstacle for some students. All apprenticeships are earn-while-you-learn training.

HR’s Role

Human resource professionals have a role in advocating for apprenticeships, Craig said.

“HR is going to be the ones that raise [their] hand and say, ‘We are having a very difficult time finding entry-level talent with the skills and experience we need,’ ” he explained. “Most HR professionals would say [they] don’t want to take on the task of running [their] own apprenticeship program but having an intermediary would be of interest. It’s of critical interest in sectors where the wider talent gap exists.”

Working with an intermediary is helpful because it can widen an employer’s apprenticeship program to a large number of participants.

In 2017, Aon started with a cohort of 26 apprentices. It has since built a network of employers, nonprofit partners and community colleges to create more than 1,000 apprenticeship positions in the Chicago area, according to its website.

And Aon is investing $30 million to expand its program to other cities over the next five years, with a goal of creating 10,000 corporate apprenticeships by 2030.

In November, JP Morgan Chase announced $3.5 million in commitments to boost other organizations’ apprenticeship programs, particularly those geared toward people from underserved backgrounds. The funds include $1 million to support Per Scholas in developing and piloting a cybersecurity apprenticeship to unemployed and underemployed individuals in 10 U.S. cities, $1 million each to two nonprofits working with high school students and $500,000 to Apprenticeships for America.

Apprenticeships thrive where intermediaries set up the programs, Craig said. In Germany, for instance, apprenticeships are the responsibility of its Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Intermediaries also include staffing companies, HR services companies, nonprofits, workforce boards and community colleges that can aggregate demand among thousands of employers.

“They make the lift less heavy for employers,” Craig said. “When you ask the employer to set up and run the programs themselves … they’re not scaled” for large numbers of participants.