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Apprenticeships providing pathways to good jobs, better economic outcomes

October 29, 2020
By: Ellen Marrison

Apprenticeships, which will be celebrated during National Apprenticeship Week beginning Nov. 8, are receiving renewed attention and being highlighted as an avenue of economic mobility. Two recent reports highlight the opportunities of apprenticeships, the promise they hold for economic mobility, their expanding reach and a new effort in California to reach 500,000 apprenticeships by the year 2029.

Growing out of a local initiative in central Kentucky, the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) began as a way to build a talent pipeline among Toyota Motor North America and a few other firms and has now grown into a national model of employer-provided training through a network of nearly 400 companies in 13 states. A report from Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution examines the program from the perspective of its benefits for students and what exactly has made it work by examining the oldest and most developed state network – Kentucky FAME.

Using data provided by the Kentucky Center for statistics (KYSTATS), the researchers found that FAME participants were much more likely to graduate from their program of study than students from other programs in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System — 80 percent of FAME students graduated compared to 29 percent of non-FAME students. Earnings and employment were also pronounced, with FAME graduates earning more than $30,000 more than non-FAME participants a year after completing their programs. That gap widened to a difference of more than $45,000 after five years. FAME participants overwhelmingly reported that it was what they learned on the job as one of the most valuable features of the program. The program provides workforce development through technical training, integration of core competencies, intensive professional practices and intentional hands-on experience in the manufacturing industry.

While efforts to expand apprenticeships have extended to both sides of the aisle and were promoted under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the authors of the report urge policymakers to take the earn-and-learn model to scale. Tax incentives for employers and technical assistance from third-party intermediaries are tools that could prove helpful to the programs, as is additional government funding for the classroom portion of the program as is seen in successful apprenticeships in European countries, the authors note. They also say policymakers should leverage the reach of trade associations to recruit employers to sponsor programs.

The report notes that more attention has been focused in recent years on expanding apprenticeship to nontraditional sectors, including many white-collar occupations that would otherwise recruit from four-year college graduates. And while the authors admit that all learners can benefit from apprenticeships, they hold that better-prepared students would likely have done well in life with or without the earn-and-learn experience. However, other less well-prepared students face steeper odds, and they feel that this is where the earn-and-learn model can add the most value and with the biggest payoff for learners and for economic mobility.

It is many of those white-collared jobs that are being targeted in an effort to amass 500,000 apprentices in the state of California by the year 2029, a goal set out by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2018.  A recent report from New America details what it may take to reach that goal. While such an expansion will rely on a current base of apprenticeships in the building trades and firefighting sectors, the report’s authors said it will also demand “a more expansive and inclusive Registered Apprenticeship system, where today nearly 70 percent of Californian apprentices are racial minorities, but only 7 percent are women.” They also contend that it should be applied more broadly across the workforce to include roles such as medical assistants and small manufacturers who want to keep their workforce up to date on new technologies.

“Expanding apprenticeship opportunities into new industry sectors can help extend the critical guarantees of Registered Apprenticeship to more workers and students across California’s diverse economy,” authors Brent Parton and Michael Prebil write. “Access to structured, high-quality skills training tied to real work, income with progressive wage gains, and affordable postsecondary credentials are all important for connecting Californians to good jobs. More Californians need access to what apprenticeship can uniquely offer to navigate the economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the changing worlds of learning and work.”

The state has a role in expanding the apprenticeship opportunities. The report outlines four policy strategies that could support apprenticeship expansion:  

  1. Accelerate new program growth in nontraditional fields through sector intermediaries and a statewide quality framework.
  2. Accelerate growth of apprenticeship through a regional investment strategy.
  3. Leverage public investment and employment to support the growth of nontraditional apprenticeship programs in critical sectors.
  4. Design and implement a statewide strategy for connecting youth to apprenticeship opportunities that advance their career and education goals.

Within each of the four policy areas are specific actions that are spelled out in The Road to 500,000 Apprentices; Ideas for Expanding Apprenticeship in California report.