Industry and Community Partnerships Central to Expanding Apprenticeships

April 20, 2018

On February 12, 2018, the President released his principles for infrastructure investment that included a call to expand apprenticeship. The principles focused on how the education system can support this expansion—through greater access to grants for in-demand short-term programs and to work-based learning opportunities for participants in career and technical education (CTE). These are undeniably important priorities. The U.S. needs to expand Pell grants to programs that align to the needs of local employers, lead to a recognized postsecondary credential, and quickly prepare people for work. The JOBS Act, a bipartisan bill, would do just that. And an existing bipartisan House proposal to reauthorize our CTE programs would improve access for more students to learn on the job while they’re completing coursework.

But, businesses and colleges in the U.S. are only just starting to truly work together in a way that can allow short-term Pell and CTE programs to be the most successful and take apprenticeship to scale. To maximize the impact higher education can have on apprenticeship expansion, the U.S. must also create a foundation of industry-led partnerships that engage businesses offering apprenticeship with colleges providing classroom training, and other community organizations, to ensure seamless and successful delivery of both on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Paul Mitchell (R-MI) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) have introduced the bipartisan BUILDS Act that would support that goal, if Congress passes it as a piece of an infrastructure bill.

Businesses—especially small- and medium-sized businesses—often lack the infrastructure to establish apprenticeship programs on their own. Firms may not have capacity to develop or run their own in-house training programs, they may not be familiar with partners in the community who can help them find workers or deliver classroom training, and they may be unaware of some of the incentives available in their state—tax credits, support for training—that can make apprenticeships more affordable. And without a business to hire them, colleges can’t train apprentices.

Partnerships between businesses, community colleges, and other community organizations maximize the capacity of each to provide crucial services to an apprenticeship program. Industry or sector partnerships have been proven to improve employment outcomes for a broad range of training programs. Cutting-edge partnerships across the country have focused efforts around using this model to expand apprenticeship, too.

In North Carolina, a group of manufacturers built on their existing relationships to form Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP), an industry partnership focused on hiring high school students as apprentices in their companies. There was enough interest from students and their parents, GAP attracted enough high school students to enable local community colleges to provide targeted classes to the apprentices. In Wisconsin, Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)/BIG STEP serves as a resource to industry by recruiting a diverse pipeline of workers, providing pre-employment training to future apprentices, and acting as a centralized entity to whom both industry and training providers can turn to help develop programs and identify priorities in training workers. In South Carolina, Apprenticeship Carolina is housed within the technical college system. Their staff of consultants—all with a business background—help employers navigate the registration process for their apprenticeships and identify existing college students qualified for apprenticeship openings.

These partnerships require support, however, to be sustainable. It took more than a year of work to get from the decision to start the GAP partnership to the hiring of the first apprentice. In that time, leaders talked to local high schools and community colleges. They worked with member businesses to identify the common skills each needed workers to learn in the classroom that would complement individualized on-the-job training. The state of North Carolina developed mentorship training to ensure workers who were good at technical skills could train the next generation of workers. WRTP/BIG STEP conducts recruitment fairs, partners with the workforce and other human services agencies to identify and assess potential apprentices and provides retention services like tutoring before and once a worker is on the job. Apprenticeship Carolina has a staff of seven full-time apprenticeship consultants that, without charge to the businesses, provide support for developing standards and other components of a registered apprenticeship program and helps these businesses claim state tax credits for hiring new workers. Each of these partnerships is funded in a different way, housed in a different type of organization, and staffed by individuals with a variety of backgrounds. But, each has the support to perpetuate the goals of the partnership when any one college or industry partner can’t.

The scaffolding around the partnerships between colleges, businesses and other partners costs money to build and takes time to establish. Right now, colleges and businesses are trying to make these partnerships work without investment from the federal government. If we pass the bipartisan BUILDS Act, we could support these efforts, lift up best practices, bolster that scaffolding and not only make it easier for partnerships that are already trying to do this, but inspire new partnerships across the country.

Congress should pass the bipartisan BUILDS Act to support industry partnerships in more places across the country and in more industries that can enable colleges, industry, the workforce system and community partners to expand apprenticeship in the U.S.

Urge your members to sign on as a co-sponsor here.