In the last few years, an ancient approach to worker training—one that has largely fallen into disuse in the United States—has been receiving renewed attention from national policymakers. Apprenticeship is a paid, credentialed, work-based learning approach that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction to build worker skills for a specific technical occupation. In the U.S., the vast majority of apprenticeships are offered in the building and construction trades, but in Europe apprenticeships are the primary form of preparation for careers in a variety of occupations in industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare, IT and financial services.
Since 2014, the U.S. has developed more than 75,000 new apprenticeships, the largest increase in nearly a decade. Although apprenticeship is an underutilized workforce strategy, recent grant awards of $175 million to help 46 public-private partnerships develop apprenticeship programs and a $90 million spending bill to expand apprenticeship in the U.S. have reaffirmed the national commitment to this proven model.
As part of the national American Apprenticeship Initiative grant, Jobs for the Future received funding to expand its work with multiple partners* to establish and promote the new Industrial Manufacturing Technician hybrid apprenticeship. The IMT apprenticeships focus on new and incumbent front-line production workers to increase the number qualified individuals who enter middle- and high-skilled occupations within the manufacturing sector.
Strong intermediaries are crucial to the development and management of apprenticeships, and JFF has partnered with the CFL Initiative, KDP, WRTP, LIFT and HRDI to conduct outreach to employers, manage relationships with labor partners, coordinate among regional stakeholders, provide apprenticeship navigators, and provide the technical assistance necessary to help establish a functional apprenticeship program.
Our experienced intermediaries developed the IMT model—an 18 month or 3,000-hour hybrid, competency-based apprenticeship that is employer-responsive, and includes work-based learning strategies, sectoral partnerships, and labor-management leadership. As the apprenticeships are rolled out, Intermediaries in the IMT registered apprenticeship projects help with all aspects of implementation.
1. Connecting business and industry groups to organized labor partners. Intermediary staff often make connections among unions, employers, education, and the regional workforce system. They inform employers and unions about the benefits and logistics of establishing an apprenticeship program, as well as provide technical assistance to them on career pathway development through advanced standing negotiations. They also train local partner staff about union and non-union training environments and the industrial union landscape. Because they understand the culture and values of both unions and employers, intermediaries can facilitate the process of developing apprenticeship standards that meet the priorities of both groups.
2. Aggregating the needs of small employers within industry sectors to ease the administrative burdens of delivering training for both small employers and training providers. Intermediaries build bridges among multiple employers in a region to create an economy of scale in developing apprenticeship programs. With their knowledge of workforce systems, the intermediary connects employers and unions to public workforce agencies and training providers. As a convener, intermediaries help smaller employers in a regional industry sector aggregate their training needs and manage the negotiations with training providers to offer courses for related instruction on a schedule that accommodates production schedules. At the same time, the intermediary reduces the outreach and coordination work for training providers to provide work-related classes to smaller employers.
3. Conducting industry engagement and outreach by marketing the IMT registered apprenticeship to individual manufacturing firms. Intermediaries begin their outreach to companies with whom they have preexisting relationships. They have instituted “lunch and learns” where they convey why and how the IMT provides a workforce solution, using a variety of marketing materials such as the IMT video and brochures in their outreach. KDP, the IMT intermediary working in Pennsylvania, has publicized the program statewide through Industry Partnerships and working with local Workforce Development Boards. The intermediary leverages its relationships from other programs, such as On the Job Training contracts and Industry Partnership meetings to market registered apprenticeship as a workforce strategy.
4. Supporting apprentices’ progress through site visits to companies with active apprentices. Intermediaries often monitor apprentices’ progress toward receiving their industry-recognized credential, coordinate between related training instructors and worksite supervisors, provide follow-up and supportive services, check attendance, and address challenges that surface. Intermediary staff also connect employers to a funding source to pay for related instruction.
5. Building relationships with community colleges. Intermediary staff work with their regional community colleges to develop quality instruction, negotiate costs for related instruction, help navigate the course registration process for apprentices, and ensure students receive college credit. For example, the IMT Minnesota intermediary staff worked with Minnesota State College and University to deliver classroom instruction using distance learning, a flexible solution that enables apprentices to earn credit for their Registered Apprenticeship experience even if they can’t physically attend classes. One additional benefit of this distance learning approach is the ability to create virtual cohorts of apprentices from several employers who build supportive relationships that help improve training completion.
6. Sponsoring apprenticeships. CFL Initiative, the intermediary in Chicago, acts as the apprenticeship sponsor, saving employers from the chore of obtaining individual approval from the state or federal apprenticeship agency. The intermediary assumes responsibility for assuring that each apprentice completes the registration process, is assigned an on-the-job learning mentor by the employer, registers for and completes related technical instruction, and that supporting documentation of apprentice progress is provided to the relevant apprenticeship agency. Intermediary sponsors sign a Memorandum of Understanding with each employer outlining their roles and responsibilities, but the company does not have to sign a “government contract.” Intermediary sponsorship also provides an alternative option to small employers who do not have the personnel resources to register an apprenticeship.
7. Researching and documenting promising practices that produce the benefits of strategic collaborations between employers and workforce service providers. By virtue of their work with multiple employers, unions, community colleges and workforce boards, intermediaries are in a position to replicate and spread effective practices that improve outcomes for app parties: workers, employers, and the workforce system.
Intermediaries are an asset in getting an apprenticeship program started. They are the link between organized labor, employers, apprentices, the workforce system and education. Intermediaries keep programs running smoothly and are an integral part of this critical workforce development strategy.
* JFF works in partnership with the Working for America Institute of the AFL-CIO, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP), Michigan Human Resource Development Institute (HRDI), Labor Institute for Training (LIFT), Keystone Development Partnership (KDP), and Chicago Federation of Labor Workforce and Community Initiative (“CFL Initiative”) to establish and promote the (IMT) hybrid manufacturing apprenticeship across eight states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.