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Meeting the Moment for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning

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Americans seeking employment often face a conundrum: relevant work experience is a prerequisite for many jobs, but it is difficult to gain the required experience without relevant on-the-job learning opportunities. There is momentum building around apprenticeship and other forms of work-based learning, and it’s not hard to understand why. There is simply no better way to learn how to succeed in the workplace than by having the chance to hone skills on the job. Learning on the job as well as in the classroom allows participants to put their lessons in context, reinforce necessary skills, and provide the crucial real-world experience that more and more employers expect to see from employees at all levels.

When employers participate in apprenticeship and other work-based learning programs, they’re not only investing in individual workers, but also helping to drive decisions about curriculum, credentials, and equipment that provide an incredible return in shaping their long-term workforce pipeline. Apprenticeship provides a “grow your own” workforce strategy that helps develop the skilled workers they need to grow their companies and compete globally. When the best interests of workers and the market needs of employers are aligned, the U.S. economy benefits by having the skilled talent needed to compete in the global marketplace.

Over the last three years there has been an unprecedented influx of more than $265 million in federal funds to expand apprenticeship to new industries and new communities, spurring interest, energy, and activity at the state and local levels. Thousands of new stakeholders are coming together to create a modern infrastructure to support more than 150,000 new apprentices and expand the tried and true foundation forged initially by labor unions and the building trades, but now expanding into new industries such as IT, health care, manufacturing and financial services. Just last month, almost 600 apprenticeship stakeholders convened in Washington, DC, for the first ever Apprenticeship Forward conference, a sign of growing interest in the field in expanding these proven practices.

I played a small role in kickstarting this movement during my time at the U.S. Department of Labor, but I also know that, for more than 30 years, Jobs for the Future has operated squarely at this intersection of education and workforce policy and practice. So I’m excited that JFF is taking an important step to build the capacity to help strengthen apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies.

Our new Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning will bring together national resources, proven and promising practices, and technical assistance in a central place to support the development of successful strategies and build capacity that help employers, advance our economy, and help workers from all backgrounds access pathways to successful careers.

Across the country there is a range of work-based learning efforts that provide access to the workplace to complement classroom learning. For apprenticeship and other forms of work-based learning to reach their potential, we must engage employers, provide support and assistance to the field, and inform stakeholders, jobseekers, and employers about how to take advantage of these effective work-based learning strategies that support both workers and employers, and that's what the new Center will support.

As more employers, community colleges, workforce agencies, intermediaries, and other members of this growing community consider apprenticeship for the first time, I want them to know that there’s a platform where they can learn from one another and a place to go when they need more help navigating the wide variety of issues related to apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies. Importantly, expanding opportunities for traditionally underrepresented populations including women, people of color, opportunity youth, and people with disabilities has always been a hallmark of our work, and the Center will help shine a light on innovations that promote greater access to apprenticeships and work-based learning for traditionally underrepresented groups. 

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the National Apprenticeship Act (also known as the Fitzgerald Act) which established the program we know today. We’ve seen how on-the-job training experiences in apprenticeships, high schools, and other settings make a difference for employers and workers. These programs can change the lives of people like Brandi Dunham who, after spending nine years as a bank teller, became the first Industrial Manufacturing Technician Registered Apprentice in the nation with HB Performance Systems. We understand why employers are bringing apprenticeship to industries where it never formally existed before, like the high-growth industry of hospitality with Hilton’s highly competitive Registered Apprenticeship program.

We believe in the power of apprenticeship and work-based learning, and we believe that with better access to the right information and support, an increasing number of states, employers, and other stakeholders can drive this movement forward, improve people’s lives, strengthen the American workforce, and reinvigorate the U.S. economy.

Learn more about the Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning and how you can meet the moment at Center4Apprenticeship.jff.org.