One company's quest to rethink the apprenticeship
As businesses look for creative ways to address the skills gap, apprentices have emerged as one piece to that puzzle.
Apprenticeship programs are changing the way businesses source and acquire talent, and many are creating these programs with the help of educational institutions. Such programming helps employers meet demand while providing students with a no-cost, earn-while you learn experience.
Such programs, of course, are nothing new. But Dr. Rebecca Lake, dean of workforce and economic development at Harper College said she's seeing programs move from traditional apprenticeships in skilled trades like construction, to non-traditional, white-collar jobs like cybersecurity, insurance, banking and finance. "It’s an exciting time to be an educator," she told HR Dive; "we’re helping business create a steady talent pipeline, and helping students find a career pathway that pays them as they learn, without a penny of college debt."
Zurich worked with Harper to develop a two-year, nationally registered program. The first steps included examining job descriptions, and finding (or developing) coursework that focused on the skill sets the company needed. Then it identified mentors within the company to work with the students throughout their tenure. Benchmarks were created to verify growth. And a dedicated academic coach at Harper was tapped to meet with students and faculty regularly to assure success.
Those who passed the initial testing and interview process work at Zurich three days per week, studying at Harper the other two. They start at the company at a lower pay rate, with the savings going directly to their education. As soon as they graduate, their salary goes up. "We’re proud to have just graduated the first 19 registered apprentices in the U.S. for the insurance industry," Lake said.
A new talent strategy
As businesses look for creative ways to address the skills gap, apprentices have emerged as one piece to that puzzle. "Employers are adopting apprenticeships as part of their overall talent management strategy," Becky Holton, director of the Interprofessional Healthcare Workforce Institute at Rosalind Franklin University, told HR Dive. The foray into non-traditional markets is being fueled at the state and federal level to help bridge skills gaps, she said.
One of the most attractive qualities of apprenticeships is that they can be customized, Holton said. "Apprenticeships can be as short as six months, as long as six years,” she said; "they can be tailored to meet the needs of the business."
But to take advantage of this benefit, careful planning is key. "Before initiating an apprenticeship program, it’s critical that the person leading the initiative has buy-in from key internal and external stakeholders," Tyra Tutor, SVP of corporate development and social responsibility at the Adecco Group, told HR Dive via email. Decision makers must be committed to fostering an environment where on-the-job training can happen, she said, which means that everyone needs to be on board with the resource investment and earn-while-you-learn nature of the program.
Employers also need to note that not all apprenticeships are equal. Harper sponsors registered apprenticeship programming. Programs meet national and state standards and, once completed, students receive an industry-issued, nationally recognized credential.
Registration is the gold standard, Tutor said, noting that the extra work is worth the effort. "While people tend to avoid paperwork at all costs," she said, "the work process schedule provides a template for employers to think through their program and build it out to meet their specific needs, while also maintaining best practices for upskilling future apprentices.”
An unexpected bonus
A study of the 40 companies working with Harper has revealed promising results. After the second semester of a six-semester program, students are very useful to the company and their use of mentors decreases. Retention stands at 84%, with an average 3.6 grade point average, Lake said. And for those students who do drop out of the program, it’s typically in the first or second semester, minimizing the company's investment loss.
But employers have seen an unexpected bonus. Many of those who enroll are veterans or individuals whose jobs were displaced.
"At Adecco, we’ve seen firsthand how apprenticeships and work-based learning models can boost diversity," Tutor said. "In Kentucky and Ohio, we work with the states, local businesses and educators on pre-apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities for high school students." Through these efforts, the company has seen young women gain experience in predominantly male fields, and businesses update their safety protocols to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities.
Techtonic Group, an IT firm, has seen the same effect from it's own apprenticeship program. “Our classes tend to be 75% women, minorities and veterans," Heather Terenzio, CEO and founder, told HR Dive via email; "candidates who were former baristas or even English majors are able to pursue a career in tech without incurring any additional debt."
Employers struggling with a talent gap may want to consider whether an apprenticeship program could help, Lake said. The added bonus of diversity can make them an attractive option. "Apprenticeships help young people who aren’t on a four-year college trajectory and adults from all walks of life to earn as they learn," she said.
And for businesses, "they can be a continuous pipeline of motivated candidates who are loyal to the company that’s invested in their career," Lake added. "They’re a win-win for everyone."