By Allysha Roth, Program Manager, Jobs for the Future

It will not surprise TAACCCT grantees to learn that community colleges were a common point of discussion at Apprenticeship Forward. TAACCCT grantees, many of which are members of the Registered Apprenticeship-College Consortium, are familiar with the alignment between apprenticeship programs and community college workforce training programs. A theme emerged throughout the conference that, in essence, apprenticeship is a postsecondary pathway that involves a combination of work-based learning and related instruction, which is already a body of work for community colleges.

Dr. Jim Jacobs, former president of Macomb Community College, which is the lead college of the Round 3 Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing consortium, was one speaker who emphasized the commonality between the work of community colleges and apprenticeships programs. He made the point explicitly during a panel discussion on embedding apprenticeship within postsecondary pathways saying, “Apprenticeship is work-based learning and it’s part of what you do.”

Moreover, Dr. Jacobs noted community colleges’ unique position to increase the number of apprentices in a local market to meet the evolving needs of employers. He pointed to community colleges as a local talent pool for employers, saying, “When you think about our students, what distinguishes community college graduates is that that they go directly back into the community.” Additionally, he suggested that alumni associations organized around their fields of study can help the programs stay up to date on new technology and industry changes, since community college alumni often stay close to their alma maters.

Panelist Sue Smith from Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, which has participated in and led multiple TAACCCT consortia, also stressed the connections between community colleges and employers. She pointed to advisory committees, which already position community colleges to engage employers, and noted that the apprenticeship model provides a focus point to more deeply engage with employers on what their specific needs are.

Exactly what role the community colleges play in Registered Apprenticeship programs was also discussed in much detail. Traditionally, community colleges provide the related classroom instruction apprentices are required to complete. And while employers are usually the sponsors of apprentices, some community colleges can and do act as the sponsors, as well. They may choose to do so to help a collection of smaller companies register an apprenticeship program as a consortium, when each lacks sufficient demand for new hires to register on their own. One TAACCCT community college, Harper College in Illinois, is sustaining their TAACCCT programming as an apprenticeship sponsor for their Logistics / Supply Chain Management, CNC Precision Machining, and Industrial Maintenance Mechanic programs, partnering with many employers in the process.

However, which entities can and should act as sponsors varies from state to state. For example, panelist Nicholas Esquivel from the California Community Colleges’ Chancellor’s Office pointed out that, while many of their colleges are partners in Registered Apprenticeship programs, only one community college in the state acts as the sponsor because they hire the apprentices as cybersecurity employees. He noted that, in the state of California, a “sponsor” is defined as the “employer of record,” limiting most community colleges to the traditional education provider role, unless they plan to fill their own hiring needs through apprenticeship.

So, what distinguishes a U.S. Department of Labor “Registered” apprenticeship and why is it significant? As one panelist explained, registration is similar to accreditation for work-based learning. It provides third-party confirmation of the quality and sufficiency of the program, and validates an apprentice’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.

One major benefit of registration to the employee described by the panel is similar to a benefit boasted by programs that TAACCCT grantees have developed or scaled: the education and training of a Registered Apprentice is industry-recognized and portable. Moreover, community colleges can design Registered Apprenticeship-related instruction programs to stack into longer-term or more advanced degree programs. Similarly, when asked “What brings nontraditional industries to Registered Apprenticeship programs?” the panelist’s answer would sound familiar to TAACCCT grantees working closely with employers to develop, modify, and scale their workforce training programs. They answered that apprenticeship adds value for new industries by:

  1. Providing dignity to their employees; and
  2. Helping their employees achieve much higher-level skills and be more adaptive.

At the end of the day—and the conference—it makes sense that apprenticeship is a natural next step for many TAACCCT grantees as they look to sustain their programs. Apprenticeship grows from the capacity colleges built through TAACCCT to engage deeply with their employer partners, resulting in programs that are truly job-driven. As many of the panelists identified, whether community colleges are the providers of related instruction or the sponsors of apprentices, higher education is a major partner in scaling up apprenticeship in the United States.

Learn more about Registered Apprenticeships, including how to plan and implement them, with the following resources:

Apprenticeship Forward was a conference held in Washington, DC, in early May 2017 to discuss expanding apprenticeship in the United States as a key strategy for meeting employers’ needs for a skilled workforce, and our workforce’s need for pathways into careers that provide family-supporting wages. The conference was hosted by the National Skills Coalition and sponsored and supported by many organizations, foundations, and institutions, including Jobs for the Future.