Apprenticeships can help meet U.S. workforce needs

The U.S. is experiencing the lowest unemployment rate since October 1969 with a rate of just 3.7 percent. Speaking in generalities this is something to be celebrated, however, with it comes new problems. The skills gap is widening on a grand scale and the labor market is screaming for a quality, skilled workforce pipeline able to fill their entry- to mid-level vacancies. Furthermore, as our workforce ages and retires and the number of qualified workers stagnates, we need a pipeline to train and develop skilled workers quickly and affordably. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the labor force participation rate will drop significantly from 67.1 percent in 2000 to 61 percent in 2026 as a result of the aging population.

A vehicle for the unemployed and under-employed as well as current incumbent workers to gain the specific skills, certifications and training necessary to become that pipeline is desperately needed. Luckily, that vehicle already exists and has existed for centuries: registered apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships build a pipeline of eager, loyal workers with skills completely customized to the employers’ needs. In addition to, in essence, “building an employee” through hand-picking the skill sets for training, companies that embrace this workforce solution experience increased retention and they save money on wages and with an improved bottom line. These positive outcomes are seen around the world in apprenticeship-friendly countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

The labor market is changing rapidly, especially in technology-related fields, where jobs come and go as technology changes. By 2020, the United States will face a shortage of 5 million workers with the necessary technical certificates and credentials, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Jobs are becoming available with few skilled enough to fill them. In recent years, the U.S. has begun to address this issue in the technology sector as well as a myriad of other industries by investing in registered apprenticeships.

Twenty-first century apprenticeship programs build on the back of traditional apprenticeship programs, such as roofing, plumbing and other industries within the trades, and expand the concept to include professions within information technology, health care and finance among many others. TranZed Apprenticeship Services, affiliated with The Children’s Guild, for example, offers apprenticeships in information technology, digital and social media, cyber security, data science, secure coding and medical assistance. Our flexible programs are tailored to both the employer’s and apprentice’s needs and offer industry-recognized certificates crucial to success.

Apprenticeship is full-time, competitive employment without the requirement of four-year degrees, narrowing the postsecondary achievement gap and reducing income inequality. Available to everyone, apprenticeships offer an alternative to academic-only, four-year colleges and offer a “learn by doing” environment suited for individuals of varied learning styles and educational backgrounds. An apprentice learns, contributes and earns money at the same time, while studying in the classroom, training in the workplace and gaining useful, marketable skills, experience and certifications.

Job openings in the U.S. totaled 7 million this month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of them don’t require workers with four-year degrees, and four-year degrees don’t guarantee the skills necessary to get the job done. It’s time, then, for a better alternative. As the skills gap grows, student loan debt increases and new job requirements emerge, now is the time for another source of workers to meet demand.

While continued government support for apprenticeships is key, it is of the utmost importance for employers to lead the way by being open to apprenticeship, and it is time to recognize registered apprenticeship as part of a recruitment strategy.

Capable apprentices are lining up in unprecedented numbers to and fill the millions of existing job openings. Now we look to employers to open their doors.

Paul Champion is president of TranZed Apprenticeship Services based in Baltimore. His email address is championp@tranzed.org.

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