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How to Engage Rural Employers in the Promise of Apprenticeship

November 1, 2022

At a Glance

Promising approaches from the field offer solutions to employer engagement challenges for rural communities.

Registered Apprenticeship (RA) opportunities don’t exist without employer involvement. RA programs are well established as a win-win solution for workers, employers, and local economies. However, rural communities, which have unique workforce needs, face challenges when it comes to engaging employers in RA: Smaller concentrations of employers, constraints on organizational capacity, and a lack of examples or established models to draw from can hinder the uptake of apprenticeship.

Yet more rural communities are looking to the national growth of apprenticeship as a potential strategy to solve their workforce needs, support local economic development, and increase retention of community members. To pair this heightened interest with employer involvement, rural practitioners can leverage a variety of approaches. These include:

  • Partnering with a range of community stakeholders, including chambers of commerce, economic development entities, school systems, local workforce boards, and civic clubs, such as the Rotary or Lions Clubs, to expand employer networks
  • Building organizational knowledge and understanding of apprenticeship to address questions, concerns, and potential misconceptions from employer partners
  • Becoming an RA sponsor or assisting in the development of group sponsorship models so that employers, especially smaller employers, can participate

Jobs for the Future (JFF) partnered with the Rural Youth Catalyst Project (RYCP) to better understand how to effectively support the development of RA and other work-based learning programs in rural communities. Through this partnership, we identified specific considerations for designing programs and engaging rural employers. These considerations, along with a set of promising practices and tactics, are available in our new publication with RYCP: “Building Effective Employer Partnerships to Support Apprenticeship Placement for Rural Young Adults.”

This blog highlights three key challenges and offers examples of how programs in the field have addressed them.

Challenge: Rural communities tend to have fewer employers than urban and suburban areas, and lower concentrations of employers in individual sectors.

Solution: Cross-sector partnerships can help identify and prioritize opportunities with the greatest potential.

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board (SVWDB) prioritizes key industries in its region to ensure that it develops apprenticeship programs for occupations and sectors that have ample opportunity for employer engagement.

SVWDB staff collaborate with members of the board’s diverse partner network, which includes community colleges and education programs, community-based organizations, social service providers, and economic development entities. These partners help identify new occupations and sectors for which apprenticeship could be a promising model, and they support engagement with employers. In one example, the SVWDB partners with the local economic development agency, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, to ensure that apprenticeship and work-based learning are actively promoted to new employers looking to enter the community.

Partnership strategies like these foster employer engagement and ensure that programs being developed center on existing jobseekers, advance equity, and promote access to newly created jobs. In the SVWDB’s case, this approach contributed to the successful enrollment of more than 40 apprentices under a JFF effort to increase participation in apprenticeship among young adults ages 16 to 24 who don’t have connections to school or employment—an initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Expansion and Modernization Fund.

Challenge: A lack of examples of successful Registered Apprenticeship programs in rural communities can contribute to concerns, misconceptions, and even fears about apprenticeship among employers.

Solution: Take the time necessary to build knowledge about apprenticeship and share that knowledge with potential employer partners.

The Deep East Texas College & Career Academy (DETCCA) in Jasper, Texas, invested heavily in its own organizational and institutional knowledge about apprenticeship to address the concerns of employer partners and dispel any misconceptions they had about apprenticeship. DETCCA worked closely with the Texas Workforce Commission to become a Registered Apprenticeship sponsor, engaged in training and technical assistance with JFF, and dedicated time and capacity to researching apprenticeship practices. With an in-depth understanding of the model, DETCCA can help employers understand how apprenticeship meets their needs.

The alliance provides training and education to employer partners about what apprenticeship is, the value it can offer, and the different ways employers can participate. This includes highlighting how DETCCA could support employers as a program sponsor by managing program design and registration, tracking data, and managing recruitment of apprentices.

These efforts helped DETCCA register one RA program and implement a pre-apprenticeship program. They also helped staffers develop a deeper understanding of apprenticeship within the community and provided interested employers with the capacity to participate.

Challenge: Rural employers, especially those that aren’t very big, often face capacity challenges when participating in apprenticeships.

Solution: Explore multi-employer sponsorship models and partner with industry associations to increase access to RA for small employers.

Multi-employer, or “group” sponsorship models in apprenticeship can be especially effective for initiatives that are trying to engage small employers who may not have the capacity to host large cohorts of apprentices. This is the approach that Shasta College in Redding, California, took to host the California Registered Apprenticeship Forest Training (CRAFT) program, a statewide RA program.

As the program host, the college works in close partnership with industry associations and employers, most of whom employ no more than five to 30 people. Shasta provides program administration, classroom instruction, and supports and services for apprentices. The school also acts as a broker and intermediary, bringing together key stakeholders from across the workforce ecosystem and facilitating the activities of an entity called the Unilateral Training Committee—a group of industry leaders and experts who drive the overall program design.

This approach allows employers of all sizes to participate and ensures that the training is truly responsive to employer needs. It has also helped create champions for apprenticeship within the business community.

Check out our live stream sessions on Work-Based Learning and Employer Engagement with RYCP to hear directly from practitioners in the field, including Shasta College and DETCCA.

Learn more about promising strategies for engaging rural employers in Registered Apprenticeship
Read About the Rural Youth Catalyst Project
Visit JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning
Visit the Center

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