MLR

Grow your own workers: Hire apprentices

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A time-honored approach to training the next generation of skilled workers is gaining traction. Due to ongoing labor shortages in construction and other industries, apprentice programs are on the rise.

apprentice learning

If your company is having difficulty finding skilled workers, has a work force moving into retirement, or needs specialized skills in the worker pool, an apprenticeship program may be for you. Apprenticeship programs can help you reduce turnover as well as tap into nontraditional worker pools, for example, women in the trades.

To support the timely development of apprentice programs nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor is stepping forward with a $100 million grant program. According to the Department of Labor, 87 percent of program graduates become employed, and the average starting wage is $50,000 annually. These statistics rival any college program. And even better for the students, they are paid while they learn.

Apprentice programs usually require a blend of on-the-job training hours and classroom time. Some have testing or licensing requirements. In the construction industry, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, masons, painters and HVAC technicians are possible positions for apprentices. Typically, they require 6,000-8,000 hours of on-the-job training, representing three or four years of full-time work.

Classroom options are flexible, allowing the employer to integrate training into existing in-house programs and professional development. Otherwise, workers can participate in accredited programs online, attend continuing education or enroll in degree programs at technical colleges. These curriculums dovetail with skills competency as the employee progresses.

Minimum qualifications for most apprentices include being age 18 or older and holding a high school degree or GED. Some trades may require other abilities, such as lifting, climbing ladders or having a driver’s license. Apprentices are paid while they work, and wages step up as they master skills or meet occupational thresholds. Structured programs have broken down occupations into job proficiency areas for thorough training and progress evaluation.

The Department of Labor has created a clearinghouse for apprenticeship programs called Registered Apprenticeship, at www.doleta.gov/OA/apprenticeship.cfm. The Office of Apprenticeship works with state apprenticeship agencies to create program standards and parameters. Their aim is to support high quality programs that produce skilled workers.

Participating employers, also called program sponsors, are listed in the Program Sponsors Database by county, state and occupation. This database is a reliable place for potential apprentices to search for opportunities.

Being listed doesn’t mean there is an opening at the current time. It is still incumbent upon the job seeker to contact the companies. In contrast, another part of the site leads to current job openings – but all are not registered apprenticeships.

At the state level, apprenticeship programs are typically supervised by the state’s department of labor or education, or both. The U.S. Department of Labor also houses a representative in each state as a liaison between federal and local programs.

The Office of Apprenticeship maintains a listing of lead stage agency contacts for those states with apprenticeship offices. For those states without a formal initiative, the local departments of labor maintain information. State agencies will also have information on how to legally operate an apprenticeship program in your company.

Apprenticeships can be a win-win for employees and employers. In a tough job market, these programs provide opportunity for ambitious workers while also helping fill the skills gap experienced by many companies.