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September 2019
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Primed for Apprentices
TD Magazine

Primed for Apprentices

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Primed for Apprentices

Apprenticeships are increasingly expanding into white-collar industries.

Apprenticeships are nothing new. But business is taking a fresh look at how to use them to generate a talent pipeline for white-collar jobs. Potential occupations for expansion include jobs in finance, insurance, supply chain management, telecommunications, and information technology. According to analysis by Burning Glass Technologies and the Harvard Business School, the core occupational groups for apprenticeships could triple from 27 occupations to 74, increasing the number of apprenticeship opportunities to 3.3 million.

The benefits are clear: Apprenticeships provide paid on-the-job training and real-world experience for individuals to develop the skills that employers value. This helps those new to the workforce transition from the education realm into the business world, or it can aid already skilled workers make a shift in industry or job role.

Unlike internships, apprenticeships typically occur over a longer period of time and lead to a full-time job. And while starting salaries for apprenticeships may be lower at first, they pay off in the long run. Mathematica Policy Research found that those who complete apprenticeship programs in the United States earn an average of $250,000 more in their lifetime than those who do not. By some estimates, technology-focused apprenticeships can even pay up to 50 percent more annually.

Pallavi Verma is a senior managing director for Accenture who oversees its business in the Midwest United States and leads the firm's national apprentice program. She notes that apprenticeships "provide the candidate with the training and mentorship needed to develop proficiency in targeted business and technology areas, supplemented by soft skills to augment the individual's performance and ready them for success."

Meeting a business need

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that there are more than 7 million job openings in the country and only 6.1 million available workers—and many of those workers are lacking the right skills to fill the open jobs. Rapid changes in technology and emerging business models are making it more important than ever to prepare workers not only for their current jobs but also for the types of jobs that will be in demand in the future.

"This is the largest mismatch ever recorded, but the disconnect goes deeper than connecting employers and job seekers. We are experiencing a skills scarcity that is a defining feature of today's economy and a major obstacle for many U.S. companies," Verma explains.

However, many industry leaders claim that the traditional four-year degrees that colleges and universities provide fail to help students graduate with the skills necessary to secure high-paying jobs. Companies are pursuing white-collar apprenticeships because of their potential for retaining workers and helping to close these enduring and persistent skills gaps.

For instance, as technologies evolve and automate, the skill level needed to meet these requirements increases. Just consider entry-level jobs in IT such as quality assurance or help desk technicians. Those were once good entry points to building a tech career, but today they are shrinking options. The new entry point for an IT career is a middle-skill level such as software developer, application developer, or systems administrator, which require significantly more training and education.

On March 27, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing on "Innovations in Expanding Registered Apprenticeship Programs." Testifying at the hearing was Jennifer Carlson, executive director of Apprenti, which is a registered apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor. She noted that at the close of 2018, there were roughly 2.97 million tech job postings in the United States, while the country confers only 65,000 four-year computer science degrees and 250,000 total engineering degrees annually.

"The pain point for employers is finally at a fever pitch," Carlson said. "Coupled with an aging workforce and forecasted tech growth, this gap suggests a meaningful disconnect between supply and demand."

Apprenti worked with Washington Technology Industry Association to identify 13 of the most critical middle-skill jobs in the tech arena that are primed for apprenticeship programs. Apprenti defines them as "jobs with potential for upward mobility that traditionally would have required a college degree."

As hiring middle-skill tech talent becomes more difficult for companies of all sectors, more industries are recognizing that a college degree may not be the best or only path to these jobs. Carlson explained that through apprenticeships, organizations are finding they can fill roles with diverse populations based on "competency over pedigree."

"We believe that apprenticeship programs, particularly at the local level, are critical to igniting a spark of interest in technology fields and ultimately building a pipeline to help address the skills gap in the United States," adds Verma.

New talent streams

Apprenticeships aren't just for those entering the workforce for the first time. Working adults who want to change careers may seek out an apprenticeship as a way to gain experience and knowledge in a new field—all while earning a living wage. Ultimately, the goal of many programs is to give underrepresented groups greater access to digital economy jobs or help reskill those whose jobs may be—or have been—disrupted by technology.

For example, Ahmad Aladawi is a Syrian immigrant who juggled multiple jobs seven days a week while also earning his associate's degree at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, Illinois. That led him to Accenture's apprenticeship program. According to Aladawi, the apprenticeship enabled him to convert his "education knowledge to industry skills." Today, he's a full-time Accenture employee on the enhanced data protection team, with plans to eventually pursue a master's degree.

Talent coming through Apprenti's programs tells a similar story. One of its earliest apprentices was working as a furniture truck delivery driver but had earned an associate's degree in computer science. Carlson explained that after applying for hundreds of jobs in tech, the recent graduate had no interviews because he had no experience. However, after graduating from his apprenticeship as a web developer, he is now making a six-figure income and is the leader of his development team.

Similarly, global financial services company JP Morgan Chase has partnered with Apprenti to launch yearlong paid apprenticeships in Columbus, Ohio, geared specifically for veterans who are entering the corporate workforce after years of military service. A group of veterans will attend Java training prior to their apprenticeship and receive specialized education, a dedicated mentor, and the opportunity to network with other professionals during their time at JP Morgan Chase. The strongest performers may also receive a full-time job offer upon completion.

"Apprentice programs can help unlock the potential of millions of Americans, while also helping companies secure a competitive advantage by cultivating sources of talent long overlooked," notes Verma.

Industry and education align

"Universities, employers, and individuals are sitting in silos without an effective mechanism to communicate, share best practices, and scale successes across the country," said Bridget Gainer, vice president of global public affairs for Aon, during the congressional hearing held earlier this year.

For more than a decade, Aon has run a successful apprenticeship program in the United Kingdom. In an effort to address growing skills gaps in the United States and establish a reliable talent pipeline, Aon implemented an apprenticeship program in 2016 at its Chicago headquarters. A year later, with co-founder Accenture, Aon helped create the employer-led initiative Chicago Apprentice Network (CAN), which brings large employers together with the goal of creating an entry point for employers to explore apprenticeship, learn best practices, and create an ecosystem of job training and workforce development.

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In its first year, the network comprised only the two employers and 50 apprentices; by 2018, there were eight employers and 130 apprentices. This year, CAN touts 23 employers and more than 425 apprentices, with the goal of 1,000 apprentices by the end of 2020. Companies in the network now include Walgreens, JP Morgan Chase, and McDonald's, among others.

A key to apprenticeship program success, advises CAN, is sourcing the right partnerships. Partners will help companies with sourcing candidates and providing education and training. Not surprisingly, many companies turn to community colleges. Working together, business and education collaborate to develop, shape, or refine curriculums that will best develop the skills that apprentices need to meet real-world workforce requirements.

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For example, Aon apprentices work out of the Aon Center in Chicago's Loop or Aon's Lincolnshire, Illinois, office and attend classes at either Harold Washington College or Harper College. Currently, all apprentices work 28 hours a week and attend school for 12 hours a week. Upon acceptance into the program, apprentices are assigned a mentor and placed on a team with colleagues they will collaborate with on a daily basis. Apprentices are considered full-time employees, receive full benefits, and have their tuition paid for as they work toward their associate's degree.

That's how it works today. But until a few years ago, Aon had never hired anyone from City Colleges. According to Gainer, that was a major missed opportunity. "We were ignoring an entire talent pipeline that was literally staring us in the face," she said. So, Aon brought together a group of employers from the insurance and financial service sectors and created a curriculum that was open to all students.

Likewise, Accenture's primary source for apprentices in Chicago is Wright College and other schools within City Colleges. In addition to teaming with Wright College to source apprentices, Accenture helps shape the cybersecurity and coding and data analytics curriculums to ensure real-world scenarios and skills are integrated in the learning.

Harper College is another CAN partner. In 2018, it offered six registered apprenticeship programs for white-collar fields, namely finance, cybersecurity, general insurance, graphic arts print production, sales and retail management, and supply chain management logistics. Former Harper President Ken Ender agrees that "one of the beauties of apprenticeship programs from the employers' perspective is that they get a hand in developing the curriculum that we're going to provide."

That partnership goes both ways, though. Ender notes that the college would spend a great deal of time looking at employment demands in different sectors: "They've got training needs. We've got education needs. How do we make those two things synonymous with one another?"

The main challenge in these partnerships, Ender explains, is "finding a vernacular" that businesses, community colleges, and apprentices all understand. "A lot of the curriculum development with the employers is about breaking through the language," he says.

Partnering with other companies to jointly develop and shape a curriculum is another way to expand both an apprentice network and sourcing channels. That can include co-investing or codeveloping course material and concepts to support workforce development and apprentices.

Sustainable, scalable, and portable

Apprenti launched its first cohort of apprentices in November 2016, and it has pushed to market more than 40 additional cohorts for more than 400 apprentices across 11 states with 30 employers. This year, Apprenti will see an additional 20 employers and three new states, totaling roughly 1,000 apprentices. For that sort of success, programs need to be scalable.

CAN created a national apprenticeship program playbook, Bridging the Gap Between Talent and Opportunity, to help employers launch—and then sustain—similar programs. As companies look to expand their apprenticeship programs, the playbook recommends they first consider expansion to new roles in new business groups. Then, organizations should explore expanding existing apprentice roles to new locations, as well as additional volume of existing apprentice roles in the current locations.

Like Apprenti, Accenture also piloted its apprenticeship program in 2016, in Chicago and San Antonio, Texas. Since that time, Verma explains that the company has scaled the majority of its apprentice programs in cities that have its innovation hubs, establishing programs throughout the United States, including Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; and Washington, D.C. Over time, apprentices have come to fill many in-demand roles in cybersecurity, digital, data analytics, and cloud migration, to name a few. They work both within Accenture's internal IT group and on client-facing work. Accenture plans to have 450 apprentices trained by the end of the year, with apprentices working across a variety of areas within the firm.

The playbook also notes that with each apprenticeship iteration or expansion to new roles or locations, it's imperative to identify where partnerships can be improved or where things need to change to better fit a specific program. Companies should consider and reevaluate the success of current partnerships and the potential need to add or change partners. That may involve reevaluating sourcing fee structures, suggesting improvements to curriculum, or altering candidate selection processes. To improve the process and relationship, partnerships will benefit from maintaining a continual feedback loop of what is and isn't working well.

In other words, as Verma notes, Accenture has had to "learn and adapt as we go." Accenture teams work closely with their skilling partners to make improvements to the curriculums and ideas for sourcing new candidates. "We also team very closely with our apprenticeship program managers and mentors to ensure they have the tools and training to continue to help our apprentices succeed," she says.


Apprenticeships Garner Government Support

To jump-start apprenticeships in U.S. businesses, President Barack Obama in 2014 pledged to double the number of U.S. apprentices to 750,000 from 375,000 by 2019. And in 2017, the Trump administration added support for the apprenticeship model when it issued the Presidential Executive Order Expanding Apprenticeships in America. The order called for the U.S. secretary of labor to create and chair the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, with the goal to "identify strategies and proposals to promote apprenticeships, especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient." To meet that challenge, the labor secretary brought together representatives from companies, labor unions, trade associations, educational institutions, and public agencies.

In June, the Labor Department pushed forward apprenticeship expansion efforts by unveiling proposed regulations for industry-recognized apprenticeship programs. The specifics of those developments are still emerging, but the announcement included nearly $184 million in grants for apprenticeship expansion partnerships between colleges and industry groups, as well as a new $100 million grant solicitation for similar public-private partnerships that seek to expand apprenticeship training.


The Apprentice Experience

If you are considering starting an apprenticeship program at your company, take into account the apprentice experience's several components.

Job descriptions. Include basic and preferred qualifications, along with details describing the key activities and other relevant information about the role. Describe the skills that participants will learn and the responsibilities that may come into play so that the candidates truly understand the extent of the experience.

Program duration. Identify the length of time needed for training and on-the-job training experience to confidently fill the role full time at the end of the program. Program durations vary significantly based on role requirements, from short-term to multiyear programs.

Support network. Establish a strong support network for the apprentices, which includes support in their roles, their home office, and the broader company community. The network can include peer buddies (such as past apprentices) and executive mentors.

Measurement. Capture key categories that demonstrate how effective the program is in achieving the program goals. Some examples of metrics to track include program completion, conversion offer and acceptance rates, retention, and advancement over time.

Source: Chicago Apprentice Network, Bridging the Gap Between Talent and Opportunity: An Apprenticeship Playbook for Professional Jobs

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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