- Pittsburgh-based training center New Century Careers (NCC) will launch a two-year robotics technician apprenticeship program, Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry announced last week.
- Apprentices in the program will be required to take 4,000 hours of on-the-job training across more than 70 competencies, according to a statement. They'll also receive technical training from three entities: Community College of Allegheny County, local economic development agency Catalyst Connection and nonprofit learning technology organization Tooling U-SME. The program will cover skills in both robotics and automation.
- NCC's program is part of a $30 million investment in apprenticeships and job training programs over two years by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), per the statement. The robotics technician program also received grants from a consortium that is part of the Manufacturing USA research institute network.
Advanced robotics could change the face of several industries, from retail to manufacturing, but few organizations have deliberate plans for adapting to technologies they're adopting. Earlier this year, a survey by Willis Towers Watson revealed that while 95% of companies expect their businesses will be using robotics, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation in three years' time, only 14% had what the advisory firm termed an "integrated digital and business strategy and road map."
The seeming mismatch between employees' skills and their employers' futures is just one facet of the skills gap and officials, including NCC's director of services, Neil Ashbaugh, said the organization believes apprenticeships could help workers catch up. "Over two decades, NCC has demonstrated that apprenticeships are an effective entry point to a family wage career and a lifetime of continuous learning in the latest industry trends required for advancement," Ashbaugh said in the department's statement.
Nationally, employers say they're seeing opportunity in the apprenticeship model. Workers who enter the programs reportedly benefit, too, with U.S. apprentices earning an average annual starting wage of $60,000 or more, according to an April report from the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation America.
Though not a new model in the U.S., apprenticeship growth has been encouraged by the Trump administration as part of its 2018 push to create 6 million training opportunities. As part of that effort, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) proposed an overhaul to its apprenticeship recognition process. The plan would allow broad categories of organizations, including employer associations, to set standards for industry-recognized apprenticeships.
Not all of those in favor of apprenticeships reacted to DOL's proposal positively, however. One national apprenticeship network, the Apprenticeship Forward Collaborative, wrote in a public comment that its members were "concerned" the proposal could "fragment our national apprenticeships system and introduce programs of widely varying quality."
Amid that debate, employers are adopting new forms of apprenticeships — even for white-collar jobs like insurance claims employees. Apprenticeship programs can help employees who may be stuck on a degree or career path that no longer suits them, or who are otherwise looking for a career change. Executives at Accenture previously told HR Dive about their efforts to provide apprenticeships to such workers and build an apprenticeship network that other Chicago-based employers have joined.