Nearly 10 million jobs are waiting to be filled, yet there are only 6.4 million job seekers on the hunt. This imbalance isn’t a plot from a dystopian novel, but a snapshot of the current labor market reality in May 2023, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Businesses are scrambling to find skilled talent, and the clock is ticking; every vacant position leaves room for missed opportunities and stalled growth. Amid this disarray, one time-honored strategy is rising to the occasion—apprenticeships. With a strategic combination of work and learning, apprenticeships have the potential to bridge the gap, promising a robust and sustainable workforce for the future. (Courtesy of Forbes.com)
Apprenticeships, work-based learning programs with both a paid work element and a formalized educational component, have been an important part of the United States’ labor force development since they were formally established in the 1930s. Their benefits are readily apparent: Workers can immediately start collecting wages while learning on the job and in the classroom—no need to tackle the education aspect before the actual experience of work. Train-to-hire models like apprenticeships often conclude with a four-year degree or some kind of certification in a skill, which can be extraordinarily valuable in an apprentice’s career as they seek stable and well-paying jobs. By investing in apprenticeships, businesses can build a sustainable talent pipeline and navigate the labor shortage with a proactive, long-term approach.
It’s inspiring to see story after story of folks pivoting industry sectors or accelerating their careers with apprenticeships as the vehicle. These programs are growing, too. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship (OA) tallied almost 27,000 registered apprenticeship programs across industries in 2022, with the total active apprentices in those programs nearing 600,000. But we need even more participation to bridge the skills gap and it’s time for corporate America to double down on a model that has demonstrated success for countries around the world.
Here’s how you can build a winning apprenticeship program in four steps.
Step 1: Workforce Planning To Assess Skills Gaps And Needs
Begin by conducting a thorough workforce planning exercise. Identify the current skills gaps in your organization, which roles are difficult to fill and the competencies crucial for the future growth of your company.
McKinsey reports that nearly nine in 10 executives say their business is dealing with a skills gap or will be in the very near future. Once you have identified skills gaps, you can build the program to address them and demonstrate why the apprenticeship program is a strategic business initiative.
Step 2: Stakeholder Alignment
Next, secure alignment and buy-in from your stakeholders. By doing your assessment and research up front, you’ll be able to make a case for the apprenticeship program’s necessity by explaining how it can combat labor shortages, bridge skills gaps and foster diversity and inclusion. Consider all stakeholders: management, HR, team leaders, potential apprentices and even external stakeholders such as educators, industry partners and regulatory bodies like your local or state government. You can also work with intermediaries who can support you every step of the way when building out your program.
Once you gain that alignment, it’s time to demonstrate the value to the stakeholders and show the power of apprenticeships. Pilot the program to demonstrate its potential effectiveness and garner more resources. Amazon and Microsoft, for instance, initiated the Apprenticeship Inclusion Model (AIM) and achieved significant success, with 96% of program graduates securing a technology career position with an average salary of $66,000.
Step 3: Evaluate And Iterate
Set goals for your program at the onset so you can monitor your progress once the apprenticeship has kicked off. What is working? What isn’t? Seek feedback from the apprentices and all stakeholders involved. It’s important to capture this data during the program with pulse surveys and at the end of the program for a full analysis.
Remember that building an apprenticeship program shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. You can seek feedback from other apprenticeship leaders in your space and join networks like Apprenticeships For America to share ideas and learn from other practitioners and experts. Use these learnings to make data-driven decisions and learn from the process to continuously refine and improve your program.
Step 4: Scale
After the successful implementation and iteration of your pilot program, it’s time to scale. Utilize your learnings to expand your apprenticeship program, targeting more roles, involving more departments or even branching into new geographical locations. Scale thoughtfully to ensure quality remains high as the program grows.
Apprenticeship programs are a long-term investment in your workforce, helping your business counteract labor shortages, bridge skills gaps and promote a diverse and inclusive workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor provides a toolkit to help employers begin this journey.
In the face of today’s labor market challenges, embracing the transformative power of apprenticeships can be a strategic move toward building a skilled, diverse and inclusive workforce for the future.