Growing Apprenticeships in America

Published jul. 15, 2014

What comes to mind when you think of apprenticeship? Maybe you recall that Ben Franklin was a printer’s apprentice. Or, maybe you think of Donald Trump’s TV show. Unfortunately, most people don’t immediate think of apprenticeship as a viable pathway to a good job. Apprenticeship is not a workforce strategy that has had much traction in the United States of late. But it should be. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some level of postsecondary education—and 30 percent of those could be filled by apprenticeship.

On July 14th, I joined a group of employers, union leaders, educators and other stakeholders at the White House Summit on American Apprenticeship. We gathered to discuss strategies for achieving the aggressive goal set by President Obama—to double the number of apprentices over the next five years (the current number is 375,000).

The group discussed many of the issues that need to be addressed in order to scale this approach, such as:

  1. Expansion into high-growth fields and occupations. While there are about 1,000 apprenticeable occupations across multiple sectors—the vast majority of the 20,000 existing registered apprenticeship programs are in the building and construction fields. Expansion into more health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing occupations holds great potential.
  2. Building career pathways to provide opportunities for underrepresented populations. Currently, women and African Americans comprising only 6 percent and 10 percent of our apprentices respectively. Much work needs to be done to ensure we are tapping the full extent and diversity of the nation’s talent. We need to learn from programs—such as those in Detroit and Seattle—that have been successful in recruiting and retaining women and minorities. We also need to replicate strong pre-apprenticehip programs.
  3. Creating supportive ecosystems. It is critical to demystify apprenticeships for employers and other key stakeholders—this will require significant awareness building and technical assistance. Strong intermediary organizations are also needed to help broker apprenticeship agreements and provide support to small and medium-sized employers. Community colleges and community-based organizations also have key roles to play in this expansion effort.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the $100 million grant competition to be announced by the U.S. Department of Labor this fall. This investment will be designed to support the expansion of apprenticeship across the country. Also, stay tuned for JFF’s upcoming publications on our successful approaches to registered apprenticeship through our GreenWays initiative.