For Registered Apprenticeship to be the gold standard workforce program, it's time to address equity

Published nov. 06, 2017

Over the last three years, U.S. employers have added over 150,000 new Registered apprentices, and the federal government has invested an unprecedented $265 million to add thousands more over in the near future. This tried and true training model is now being expanded in more than 1,000 different industries and transformed into an innovative approach being put to the test in classrooms, labs, and boardrooms throughout the country.

For those who have the opportunity to participate in one of these programs, it works.  

Companies that use Registered Apprenticeship report higher productivity, higher retention rates, and a substantial return on investment. Meanwhile, 9 out of 10 apprentices are employed at the conclusion of their program, and apprentices go on to earn an average starting salary of $60,000 per year. That add up to a lifetime earnings increase of $300,000 for the typical apprentice, with the vast majority doing so without the burden of student loan debt.  

Sounds too good to be true? For far too many women and people of color, it is.  

Even though women make up almost 47% of the 151+ million people working in America, they account for less than 7% of apprentices, roughly the same percentage as a decade ago. People of color account for one third of all apprenticeship participants, but even those are more likely to be enrolled in programs for low-wage occupations and underrepresented in high-wage occupations.  

If we want to continue to hold up Registered Apprenticeship as the “gold standard” workforce program, those numbers have to change.  

At JFF, we strive to help workers from all backgrounds access pathways to successful careers. For the past year, backed by funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, we have led a consortium of community colleges, civic organizations, local partners in four cities, and employers like Hilton Worldwide, CVS Health, and The Hartford to increase the participation of women, people of color, and opportunity youth in apprenticeship.  

We have seen a disconnect across these systems that has stifled strategies for diversifying Registered Apprenticeship. Workforce boards and community colleges have begun new partnerships with apprenticeship programs, and are interested in expanding their roles, but they need more guidance customized to their institutional strengths and constraints. Community-based organizations that have the trust of opportunity youth, women, and communities of color often don’t know the value of apprenticeship or how to align their programs with the Registered Apprenticeship system.  

As leaders in each of these systems develop innovative pathways into Registered Apprenticeship, we need structures in place to coordinate and amplify these early successes. We need a streamlined solution to support partnerships that increase referrals of diverse talent into apprenticeship, offer quality pre-apprenticeship programs to provide preparation when needed, and improve apprenticeship services that foster success among all apprentices. 

Because of our long-standing partnerships with employers, educators and community organizations, we’re in a position to serve a catalyst for greater equity and economic mobility nationwide. That starts with building on what works.  

Intermediaries that are industry driven but equally dedicated to working with community-based organizations and training programs hold the key to successfully connecting diverse populations to Registered Apprenticeship at scale. They have the knowledge and networks to promote awareness of apprenticeship and foster necessary skill development in untapped communities, while at the same time speaking the language of businesses and supporting their bottom line. 

Through two grants from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand a new, hybrid apprenticeship model in manufacturing, we have partnered with regional intermediaries to conduct outreach to more than 100 new employers and to train workforce boards, community colleges and industry associations on the value of apprenticeships. With our partners, we’re now in a position to dramatically expanding the industrial manufacturing technician (IMT) Registered Apprenticeship program across eight states to register 1,450 apprentices and serve 150 employers. Of the new apprentices enrolled to date, 40% are from underrepresented populations including people of color, women and older workers. 

Particularly in the current tight labor market, employers who face challenges hiring workers with the right mix of skills can unlock a new pool of diverse qualified workers through this earn and learn training. Many employers already view apprenticeship programs as an important piece in building their talent pipeline, and their talent pipeline as an effective way to address persistent diversity and inclusion issues. Registered Apprenticeship can and should be this kind of win-win scenario for participants and employers.   

If apprenticeships of the future are to succeed, we strongly encourage the Trump administration to ensure that diversity and inclusion remains a part of equation in expanding apprenticeship in America. Only when apprenticeship opportunities are accessible to more people, in more communities, in more industries, can it truly be the best of what workforce development offers.  

That’s one of the reasons we recently launched the new Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, and why we’re always ready to help workers from all backgrounds access pathways to successful careers. 

For more on the role that diversity and equity in apprenticeship and work-based learning, read these recently released reports published as part of JFF's work in growing apprenticeship for all: