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Apprenticeships: The Next Stackable Credential?

November 9, 2018

At a Glance

This report explores how “stackable apprenticeships” can be used to structure short-term apprenticeships into a full career ladder.

Deborah Kobes

Extremely rare 20 years ago, now over a quarter of new Registered Apprenticeship (RA) programs are 18 months or less. Short programs are on the rise as more employers and industries adopt RA.  

Longer-term programs, with a median length of 4 years, correlate to higher wages for an apprentice and are able to serve as self-contained career pathways from entry-level worker to journey-level status. 

In isolation, these new, shorter programs can bring an apprentice from one level to the next, but are not at the length needed to serve as an entire career ladder and do not offer the same level. 

By establishing relationships between related RA programs (“stacking” them), the full ladder can be re-formed with each program serving as its own rung. 

Stackable apprenticeships take their cue from the stackable credential movement of postsecondary education. Stackable credentials are a strategy that combines shorter-term credentials into a coherent pathway that culminates in a recognized, expert-level credential. 

This brief: 

  • Explores how changes over the last few years in RA have led to a shift toward shorter programs. 
  • Makes the case for stackable RAs: Explains how establishing relationships between RA programs could build some of the benefits of long-term apprenticeships into a more modularized system. 
  • Highlights the Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) program as a current example of how advanced standing can allow apprenticeships to stack.  
  • Provides recommendations for government, intermediaries, and employers to support the expansion of stackable apprenticeships.

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