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SSTI members share success from apprenticeships and other programs

November 18, 2021
By: Ellen Marrison

A job market that was struck an unprecedented blow with the pandemic became the focus of a recovery built on better jobs, not simply maintaining the status quo. And for workers across the country, myriad programs exist, or are being developed, to help them upskill or reskill as they seek new opportunities and adjust to changing demands of the labor market. Even as National Apprenticeship Week is underway this week, change is evident as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is seeking public comment on its proposal to rescind Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs), which it says would allow the department to direct its resources toward expanding access to good-paying jobs through the Registered Apprenticeship program and create reliable pathways to middle class.

In distinguishing among programs, the DOL noted that a Registered Apprenticeship Program must be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship or their respective state apprenticeship agency. Registered apprenticeship programs have the following key components: they are paid jobs, they include on-the-job learning as well as classroom learning, there is one-to-one mentorship support, and apprentices receive a portable, nationally-recognized credential upon the completion of the program. Because of this structure, they tend to be more robust than other types of work-based learning like internships and job shadowing.

In addition to the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP), other apprenticeships, internships and fellowships that are outside of the RAP abound. Many of SSTI’s members have stories of successful programs that they are involved with that serve to boost the workforce and educate students that may enter STEM careers or increase their prospects of finding good-paying jobs. We are able to share a few of their stories here.

Programs range from long-standing relationships like Lorain Community College’s partnership with UAW/Ford Motor Company that has given nearly 1,000 local workers apprenticeship opportunities to learn new skills and advance their careers, to a new, nontraditional national apprenticeship initiative designed to diversify and expand the technology workforce across America that saw its first registered apprenticeship with the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Arizona Apprenticeship Office (AAO). The DOL approved education and training guideline standards aimed at preparing apprentices to fill critical technology occupations across America selected two organizations to promote the program. Arizona Commerce Authority said that the state’s program is the first registered program to address this demand using the CompTIA National Guideline Standards.

In Indiana, the Modern Apprenticeship (MAP) is a two- to three-year program designed to prepare Central Indiana high school students for the workforce with paid, hands-on experience that complements their traditional coursework. Apprentices start in their junior year and pursue jobs in growing fields such as business, advanced manufacturing, and information technology (IT) while earning college credits. Afterward, they can pursue a college degree or jump right into the workforce. Ascend, in partnership with Marion County’s workforce development board, EmployIndy, launched Modern Apprenticeship in fall 2020 with a lead gift from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. Sixteen employer partners from Central Indiana, in industries such as technology, business operations, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing committed to participating in the first cohort. In 2021, 30 apprentices were selected and placed.  Of this group, two thirds are female, one third qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 93 percent identify as students of color. 

While the federal government provides opportunities for internships, fellowships, and other work experience, it does not proscribe federal requirements that entities must adhere to before promoting such opportunities, and it does not have a formal definition for an internship or fellowship.  Generally, fellowships are intended for individuals with advanced degrees or substantial professional experience and are usually salaried positions lasting a year or more, while internships may either be salaried or volunteer short-term arrangements that require relatively minimal experience and are often completed by students.  More information on the differences between apprenticeships and internships is available on the department’s website, and ProFellow, a web resource with information on professional and academic fellowships, has outlined the differences between internships and fellowships.

A variety of programs are evident at Oak Crest Institute of Science in Monrovia, California. Senior faculty member Paul Webster at Oak Crest said that over 400 students have taken part in their programs with the demographic reflecting Oak Crest’s local area. Undergraduates in one of their programs spend at least eight weeks with Oak Crest, and many of them also spend an additional six months to a year working in the laboratories. Webster said they call their time "fellowships" because they are paid positions. The fellowships help bridge the gap between what students learn in school and the skillset that is needed for a STEM career in academia or industry.  However, they can also be called apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships.

“Most of the students who come to work at Oak Crest are at risk of leaving higher education and quitting their interest in STEM,” Webster noted. “The good news is that almost all of our students continue their studies and eventually end up in PhD programs. Some do it quickly and others take more time, spending a year or two working in a laboratory to develop their confidence.”

The Danforth Plant Science Center is home to BRDG Park (Bio Research & Development Growth) and its partnership with St. Louis Community College Center for Plant and Life Sciences, which was developed in response to industry demands in the region’s plant and life sciences industry. Danforth reports that students in the STLCC program at BRDG Park train in a Biotechnology and Life Science Lab assistant program on cutting-edge equipment, preparing graduates who will be sought after by regional bioscience companies and go to work immediately in high-paying jobs. Companies work directly with the biotechnician training program to recruit interns and employees, and they currently boast a 95 percent placement rate.

Students are receiving industry-recognized credentials, mentorship, and networking to support their career in technology sector through the Smith Tech Pathways program at Johnson C. Smith University. Terik Tidwell, managing director at the Smith Technology Innovation Center, said the program is funded by DOL under the Sector Based Strategies for Apprenticeship grant and graduates have received jobs at Deloitte, Bank of America, IBM, American Airlines, and other companies. 

The benefits of apprenticeships, internships, fellowships and similar programs, extend far beyond filling a post at a company. In Oregon, Craig Campbell, executive director of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center, relayed the success of the Columbia Works summer 2021 internship for area high schoolers. The paid internships are eight weeks long and students are expected to be at the facility four days a week from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Designed to allow the students to explore career paths in the manufacturing sector, the internship encourages innovative project outcomes and taking ownership of the team output.

“Our primary metrics are weighted towards subjective measures such as the level of engagement with the team, demonstrated motivation for personal growth, and to become a solid team player. These types of program measures signal to the staff and to the interns that this is not a pass/fail style program, and that creativity and innovation are highly prized,” Campbell said. “Once the interns figure out that we encourage experimentation and innovative approaches for the best way to move towards the team goals, we find their enthusiasm and motivation spikes. We celebrate failures as a signal that the intern is trying new things. The culture of failing forward demonstrates that good innovative thinking sometimes requires experimentation on personal ideas. Personal breakthroughs are celebrated, and students are given liberty to suggest better approaches at each step of the process.”

Students benefit from mentors and access to research engineers, along with professionals that share stories with the interns and on-site tours of manufacturing facilities to broader their exposure to different aspects of the manufacturing industry.

“While learning to use current technologies to solve real-world problem is the external goal of the internship, the real merit of the programs lies in teaching interns how to correctly identify problems/obstacles and to work in teams to propose elegant and innovative solutions to those problems. We are not trying to provide on the job training in the traditional sense, but we are teaching skills that will promote their confidence in themselves as smart, innovative problem solving,” Campbell said. “Teaching knowledge and skill-specific tasks is easy. Instilling confidence in these high schoolers that allow them to explore and dream about their career passions is the ultimate measure of success for this program.”

apprenticeship, workforce, ssti