By Christian Lagarde, Consultant, Jobs for the Future

In recent years, apprenticeships have gained traction to address workforce shortages. Working with community colleges and U.S. industry, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program has catalyzed new apprenticeship models that are first-of-their-kind in the country and that are serving as models for future replication and scaling.

In response to the strong interest in apprenticeship models, the TAACCCT Learning Network hosted a webinar, “From Design to Implementation, Flexible Apprenticeship Models That Work.” The webinar highlighted TAACCCT grantees who successfully designed and implemented apprenticeship models in nontraditional sectors, including insurance and health care.

On the webinar, Rebecca Lake, dean of Workforce and Economic Development at William Rainey Harper College, spoke about Harper College and Zurich North America’s innovative apprenticeship program for insurance professionals, the first-of-its kind in the United States. Harper has also been a forerunner as a community college serving as the “sponsor” of the Registered Apprenticeship model, taking on a significant amount of the burden traditionally borne by the companies. To find employers willing to partner, Lake advises, “You have to have outreach people go out and talk to [employers]. You can't do it by email, or only a card, or a mailer. You have to have employment breakfasts. . . . But you can do this.” America RA programs are built on the European models, but adapted and changed for American companies, colleges and apprentices.  Most Harper College RA programs earn apprentices college credit, but two are non-credit credentials.  All have competencies that the mentors check off documenting that the apprentice can do that specific identified industry-specific competence.

Valerie Piet, HealthCARE Apprenticeship Program Supervisor at Montana Department of Labor & Industry, offered insights on how the TAACCCT-funded HealthCARE Montana consortium led by Missoula College-University of Montana helped to recruit and train health care professionals in rural and frontier Montana. Partnerships linking 15 of Montana’s 2-year colleges, health care employers across the state, and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry were key to their success. This has produced the first successful healthcare Registered Apprenticeship programs in Montana. Montana has adopted several new models of apprenticeship including tribal colleges serving as apprenticeship sponsors, facilitating degree completion pathways for graduated apprentices, development of non-credit modules, and, especially, incorporating unique distance delivery programs to help reach students in rural areas. “Incorporating Registered Apprenticeship into a distance delivery program helped to address some of the quality concerns of employers and faculty . . . [that] faculty members know that there's someone onsite, where the apprentice and student lives . . . to help them contextualize the education they're learning through their formal program.”  

Here we highlight some of the most frequently asked questions from the webinar:

1. What is the upside to using apprenticeships in place of programs that already have required hands-on technical learning (e.g., health care clinicals)? Does it just provide another layer of requirements for the student or are you showing better outcomes than other traditional students?

Missoula College—“Montana’s approach is not that it’s either/or, but more of ‘how can apprenticeship augment formal college programs?’ We know there is often a gap between formal education programs and what it can take to be proficient on day one of a job, which is neither 100 percent the responsibility of the employer [nor of the] college. By using apprenticeships, student apprentices can learn employer-specific skills and competencies in addition to what is standard for their occupation. Creating an apprenticeship structure around high-demand programs can also motivate students to complete those programs rather than dropping out when they know enough to get a job (for example, medical coding and billing). Importantly, apprenticeship can help define partnerships and pathways from college programs to employers.

Recruitment and retention can be especially challenging in a rural state like Montana. Some healthcare education programs are only located in one or two places throughout the state which leaves a surplus of graduates in that location but a dearth elsewhere. To this, our TAACCCT grant funded numerous colleges to translate their training programs into a distance format to allow facilities to ‘grow their own’ workers who are more likely to live and stay in their home communities. Pairing those distance programs with apprenticeship can build up confidence around distance education for all parties involved—employers, colleges, and students.”

Harper College—“Harper Registered Apprenticeship programs do well because they are an established curriculum map, so the apprentices know what courses they will be taking and when, there is no choice anywhere for substitutions of the coursework (it is a pre-established pathway map), and the program utilizes an academic coach for all apprentices. This academic coach is in constant contact with the apprentices, the faculty teaching that course, and the companies that are paying for the program.  Additionally, the curriculum maps are the established AAS degrees written by faculty that serve as the pathway to the degree and the Registered Apprenticeship.  These maps were also agreed to by the companies for each industry-specific RA program.   No one takes extra courses, but both the company and the apprentice know what courses the apprentice will be taking each semester.”

2. Can you tell us a bit about how you recruit apprentices?

Harper College—“Admissions sends out email blasts to current students, staff visit local high schools, and traditional and social media are all part of the recruitment strategy.”

Missoula College—“[The] Montana Department of Labor and Industry is the State Apprenticeship Agency. Working collaboratively with the SAA, we don’t directly recruit apprentices, but we work with employers in other ways to help them recruit apprentices. For example, we work with employers to identify what traits are required versus preferred in a candidate. We are working statewide to develop relationships with talent pipeline programs (Jobs for Montana’s graduates, Job Corps, CTE [career and technical education] programs in high schools, etc.) that can feed into apprenticeship programs. Our partner colleges are also a great source of recruitment for apprenticeship programs. Similarly, we’ve compiled a thorough resource of organizations statewide who work with underrepresented and vulnerable populations. All sponsors can use this list for outreach and job openings. We are also engaging in an electronic employer clearinghouse to connect interested potential apprentices with apprenticeship programs.”

3. Have you had to deal with employer champion fatigue?

Missoula College—“We are very cautious about avoiding champion fatigue. As we’ve been expanding our programs into new industries, especially health care, we are calling on our employer champions quite a bit—for newsletter articles, press releases, videos, legislative testimony, employer panels, webinars, National Apprenticeship Week and other events, and more! We try and limit the number of requests to each champion and customize requests to the location and types of programs they have.”

4. How do you align Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) requirements and the registered apprenticeship programs offerings?

Missoula College—“I recommend locating some of the other WIOA and apprenticeship resources made available through [the U.S. Department of Labor]. Montana’s approach is that apprenticeship programs are employer-driven. We start with the employer to develop exactly what they want. And we are encouraging our employers to consider wider audiences and more diverse applicant pools than ever before to address the workforce shortage.” Once candidates are selected, we work with our WIOA partners to determine eligibility. The alignment isn’t perfect, but we are working to formalize relationships between pipeline programs and Registered Apprenticeship sponsors. We are also working through the process of adding Registered Apprenticeship sponsors to the Eligible Training Provider List.

Harper College – “All of the Harper College RA programs are up on the ETPL.  So, all of our programs are eligible for funds of different types to serve the companies and the apprentice.”