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Apprenticeship: an underused tool for employers in an uncertain world
Following the adage “measure twice and cut once” helps avoid having to rework a project. In many cases, employers outsource their job training to the education sector and hope that qualified talent will show up at the front door ready to work – only to find themselves having to retrain people. Employers who use apprenticeship models, which combine education with paid work and mentorship, build an entry-level workforce with the job-related and so-called “soft” skills they need. need ; these employers develop talent to their unique specifications and see a return on their investment. In the United States, apprenticeships are largely associated with trade and craft occupations, including carpenters, pipefitters, and industrial machinery mechanics. The work-based learning model, however, is an underutilized tool in other industries and may lend itself well to a much wider range of professional roles (e.g. customer service representatives, service specialists human resources, medical transcriptionists, insurance underwriters and salespeople). representatives), while closing skills gaps and creating economic opportunities and mobility. Research conducted by Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work project and Burning Glass Technologies and presented in the article “Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeships” explores the extent of the potential of apprenticeship in the economy, revealing great opportunities to extend and energize the model to new industries and professions. Houston employers can greatly benefit from working together to increase apprenticeship uptake in the region and support a more resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn. Through apprenticeships, employers can train the skilled workers they need while fostering a flow of talent for the future with multiple business, social and economic benefits. “You cultivate the human assets of the future. Treat [your apprenticeship program] as an asset, invest in it, install it, understand how to use it. Don’t treat it like an expense,” said Joseph B. Fuller, Harvard Business School professor and co-lead of the Managing the Future of Work project during a conversation on the UpSkill Houston Initiative’s UpSkill Works forum with Mary Beth Gracy, managing director of professional services firm Accenture. Â Train future talent through apprenticeships The general population tends to stigmatize or minimize jobs associated with apprenticeships because they do not require a bachelor’s degree; however, these jobs are essential for employers and they pay a living wage. Employers who have specific apprenticeship programs in place are developing a pool of highly skilled talent to meet the needs of business and industry. Dow is a major employer that cultivates talent for some of the industry’s most sought-after technical specialties through its robust US apprenticeship program that combines formal education with paid on-the-job training. Dow partners with local community colleges, including Brazosport College, where apprentices receive classroom instruction and extensive hands-on training while working toward an associate degree. Dow apprenticeships are certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, so individuals who complete the programs become nationally certified apprentices, meaning their work and achievements would be recognized by employers beyond the company, Rich Wells, vice president of Dow, explains in an introduction to the program. “It’s not an alternative to college, but rather a pathway to a debt-free associate’s degree and ultimately a solid career,” says Wells. Fuller noted during the Forum that the work experience an apprentice gains can be invaluable to the apprentice but also even to an employer who has not sponsored the apprenticeship program. Employers can feel more confident hiring a candidate who can show real job exposure than one who cannot, he said. Apprenticeship gives employers a greater opportunity to assess a worker’s job skills and learning ability than a job interview, allowing employers to “test” a potential employee before hiring them for a full-time job – usually cheaper than hiring first and “testing” later. Additionally, Fuller said, apprentices are productive and employers benefit from their work. Historically in Europe, apprentices have been immune to downsizing because they represent a good return on investment, he said. Employers have effectively used apprenticeships to boost diversity and expand underrepresented populations in their workforces, including women, veterans, and second-chance job seekers; a recent example is the initiative of S&B Engineers and Constructors to attract more women into skilled craft professions. “Companies offering apprenticeship programs very often report higher levels of engagement from their existing staff, as they see investments being made to both try to attract young talent, but also to uplift people, and it’s motivating for everyone to see that,” € Fuller said. Recognizing the potential of apprenticeship programs Research by Harvard and Burning Glass Technologies identified 27 jobs in the United States that are heavily influenced by apprenticeship programs, mostly in the construction and mining industries, but 47 others jobs – for a total of 74 – that have the potential to be effectively staffed through an apprenticeship model. These occupations require clearly defined job skills that can be taught through specialized training and are generally jobs that are not highly licensed – state licensing requirements may limit the geographic mobility of individuals. ‘a worker. Positions identified by Harvard and Burning Glass tend to have lower than average turnover – potentially making the return on investment through learning more attractive to an employer – and pay a living wage of $15 per hour or more. Nearly half of these jobs require skills that can be acquired without a bachelor’s degree; this set includes account managers, tax preparers and photovoltaic installers. And many of them are hard to fill, which means employers could benefit from developing a talent pool ready to be hired. For the rest, a bachelor’s degree is generally demanded or preferred among job applicants, although the general skills used on the job do not differ significantly between positions that require a bachelor’s degree and those that do not. It also suggests that, on the whole, these skills could be acquired through an apprenticeship approach, as opposed to the requirement of a bachelor’s degree and the salary premium an employer may pay. This group includes insurers, database administrators and human resources specialists. Many of the 74 jobs where apprenticeships are prevalent or represent potential for apprenticeship expansion are among the nearly 50 “medium skill” occupations within the Greater Houston economy with high demand and volume. high needs in the years to come. in UpSkill Houston’s 2020 “Middle Skills Matter to Greater Houston” report. New Network Supports Houston Apprenticeship Programs Organizations ready to start apprenticeship programs can find support from the Greater Houston Apprentice Network (GHAN), a coalition of employers, educators and nonprofits lucrative Houston powered by Accenture and Aon. Using educational and nonprofit relationships and a learning playbook, this network, which includes the Greater Houston Partnership, helps organizations define visions for their programs, identify roles best suited for learnings within of their organizations, and to develop and execute their program models. “The learnings are a proven and scalable model for any organization,” Dawn Spreeman-Heine, general manager of enterprise risk solutions at Aon’s Houston office, said at the forum. “You really don’t have to start from scratch.” UpSkill Houston is the Partnership’s nationally recognized, employer-led initiative that mobilizes collective action from employers, educators and community leaders to build the talent pipeline that employers in the region need to grow their businesses and help all Houstonians develop relevant skills and connect to great careers that increase their economic opportunity and mobility. His career awareness series ‘My Life As’ features stories shared by apprentices in construction and petrochemical manufacturing at TRIO Electric, Dow and INEOS. See them here. View all previous UpSkill Works forums here.