Feeling Your Pain
If you’re an employer in Arkansas needing middle- to high-skilled workers, you may have felt the talent pool shrinking, at least for the particular skills you need. Technology is driving the competition in an increasingly global marketplace, and the pace of change gains more speed every year. As it gets tougher for traditional training programs to keep up, job seekers—even those with paper credentials—often don’t have the skills you’re seeking.
You’re not alone. That phenomenon is playing out in virtually every industry across Arkansas and the nation. With aging baby boomers retiring, companies are looking for the next generation of workers. In the face of those realities, many businesses are turning to work-based learning solutions, and specifically apprenticeship for what is becoming a talent-procurement and workforce-development crisis. Nationally, about 53 percent of job openings require something less than a four-year degree but more than a high school education. A large percentage of those occupations work well with the apprenticeship model.
DWS currently receives U.S. Department of Labor funds for three grants to promote registered apprenticeship in Arkansas. They include:
- The Arkansas Apprenticeship Pathways Initiative (AAPI) Grant–$4 million award through September 30, 2020 to train 600 apprentices in high-demand occupations.
- The Arkansas Expands Apprenticeship (AREA) Grant–$900,000 base award with another $1.089 million in second-round continuation funding through October 31, 2020 to train both apprentices and pre-apprentices in historically non-apprenticed occupations.
- The third is a planning grant for registered apprenticeship expansion, which does not involve direct expenditures on apprenticeship training programs.
Apprenticeship is not new. For centuries in Germany, Austria and other European nations, it has been means of choice for “up-skilling” new workers in specific trades and occupations. Even the registered apprenticeship system in this country dates back to 1937 with the signing of the Fitzgerald Act. It is a proven means of not only creating skilled craftsmen (and women), but enculturating them in your company’s way of doing business, thus creating long-term loyalty.
That happens because training is not abstract. It revolves around you, the employer. The educational component of apprenticeship is work-based, it happens mostly at your work site on your equipment, and it is designed by you with your immediate and long-term needs in mind.
Registered apprenticeship programs consist of five core components: direct business involvement, related instruction, structured on-the-job training from an experienced mentor, rewarding skill gains with wage increases, and apprenticeship completion resulting in a national occupational credential. *
It works for up-skilling incumbent workers to higher positions as well as bringing on new, entry-level hires. That helps you as the business owner establish a structured succession-planning system to avert the loss of institutional knowledge through attrition.
Hand in Glove
When employers begin investigating registered apprenticeship as a talent-pipeline solution, many of them find it fits nicely into what they’re already doing. Ask yourself:
How does my company recruit, hire and promote employees?
Businesses are the foundation of every apprenticeship program, and their approaches to finding talent are the starting point for the discussion about establishing a new program. Stretched-to-the-limit human resources officers often lack the resources for truly strategic recruiting. Employers who enter into a registered apprenticeship agreement get help identifying and screening qualified candidates from training partners—usually two-year colleges or other educational institution that already has a robust recruiting arm—local Workforce Development Area staff, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship state director, USDOL state Grantees (state agencies), and others.
How does my company welcome new employees aboard?
How do we assess the gaps between applicants’ experience and the job requirements? Do we offer an orientation, ongoing training or opportunities to attend conferences or classes? For the apprentice, all of that is rolled into what’s called related technical instruction.
How does my company nurture and support our new employees?
Do they get consistent mentoring, including one-on-one time with a manager, team lead or peer? That is required in a registered apprenticeship in what’s referred to as structured on-the-job training.
Do we conduct regular performance reviews and reward good performance with merit-based increases?
Wage progression based on aptitude and performance with specific baseline amounts are written into the registered apprenticeship standards and are an important part of apprentices’ growth into dependable company assets.
As employees progress, do we promote them and give them new levels of responsibility?
In apprenticeship, that’s the National Occupational Credential, a very important premium for your workers. *
*(Source: USDOL Office of Apprenticeship “Talking to Businesses About Apprenticeship”)
Growth in registered apprenticeship is mushrooming in Arkansas. The number of apprentices grew from the start of the fiscal year through the spring of 2018 by approximately 1,700.* Businesses are taking advantage of the grants mentioned above and DOL funds funneled through other state agencies to defray much of the cost of training. The benefits to business are numerous:
- Specifically tailored curriculum to meet current and future skill needs
- Built-in recruitment pipeline
- State tax credit and federal funding to offset costs
- Culture of mentoring and knowledge-sharing
- Long-term employee loyalty through intertwining training on company-specific culture with general occupational instruction
- Turnover reduction
*(Source: Arkansas State Office of Apprenticeship)
Overcoming Start-Up Anxiety
Registered Apprenticeship is a long-term solution that can create a pipeline to feed your company’s growth for decades. It’s a big move. Setting it up takes careful assessment and planning. But you will get help from DWS, other state agencies, the USDOL State Office of Apprenticeship, your training provider (if outside the company), your industry or trade association and other sources.