It’s no secret there’s a shortage of qualified, skilled workers in the US, which has employers looking for unique ways to fill open positions. Enter the apprenticeship in which employers mentor unskilled workers with paid, on-the-job training in conjunction with carefully tailored community college courses matching their specific requirements. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase are all running pilot programs to test whether or not apprenticeships are the way forward in the hiring process.
The Department of Labor estimates there are 6.1 million jobs currently unfilled because employers are unable to find qualified applicants, and a big chunk of those jobs are for white-collar positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has also found there are 5.1 million Americans looking for full-time work, but can only find part-time positions. By implementing an apprenticeship program for white-collar positions, like the tech industry that’s struggled to find and retain talent for years, companies are working to build the labor force they need rather than waiting for qualified applicants to come to them.
The benchmark for entry-level office positions has been a four-year college degree since the tech-boom in the 90s, but companies big and small are beginning to ask themselves if that requirement is a necessity or a habit. A freshly degreed college graduate will take positions for which they’re over-qualified but under-experienced, like tech-support, account manager, or insurance customer service—positions that get them in the door but aren’t what they want to do for long. After a year or two, they look onward and upward for something more dynamic and less routine, and their employers are left trying to fill the position once more. Hiring another college graduate results in the same revolving door, leaving these departments that require skilled workers but don’t give a lot of upward mobility, in a continuous search for the next candidate and the next, and the next.
But what if the company can offer a mix of hands-on training and education to someone who wants skilled work but isn’t looking to climb the corporate ladder?
What if employers can provide their employees with all the skills they need to fill the necessary positions these companies have open?
Any why not in fields like finance, insurance, and technology?
With an apprenticeship program, agreements with the apprentice for a minimum of full-time employment can be made once the apprenticeship is complete. The employers will know they have the proper training and are already experienced for their position, and the apprentice knows they have guaranteed employment for a specified length of time. Companies can shape their workforce to their best benefit, and apprentices get the opportunity for a skilled position without the commitment of thousands of dollars and years of education required to get a degree.
Re-imagining the apprenticeship
When people think apprenticeship, they automatically jump to blue-collar positions filled through the cooperation of the company and the union representing the workers. But the skills gap is hurting U.S. businesses. Lack of workers means U.S. companies aren’t competing well against international corporations for talent, and the U.S. workforce has faced growing pessimism in the work economy.
But this spark of interest in the apprenticeship needs fuel to catch on. This is where the government has stepped in. Apprenticeship grants are becoming more widely available to employers that register their programs with the Department of Labor. It’s not mandatory, but it does provide access to public grants, which has seen budget increases from both the Obama and Trump administrations, and the program has seen bipartisan support in Congress.
For the success of apprenticeships to work, businesses must buy in, because they’re the ones responsible for running their own programs, and many of them are at a loss as to where to begin.
This is where non-profit group training organizations can come into play. For a small fee, they match companies with apprentices and the government grants go to cover the apprentice’s wage while they’re in the program. The benefits of this relationship are many:
- This saves the company time by subscribing to an existing apprenticeship program.
- The apprentice gets the benefit of a matchmaking service.
- The overall job market begins to fill the employment holes left by the skills gap.
- The group training organizations keep the process running smoothly by coordinating many companies’ programs, so this path of entry into the job market can gain traction and credibility.
- In the long run, the skills gap shrinks, and unemployment among willing workers falls, strengthening the core of U.S. businesses across the nation.
Perhaps it’s not only individuals with degrees who have something to offer the modern day office. Could those who don’t necessarily have access to a four-year degree program be the next kind of workplace revolutionary? Could companies, who are having such trouble attracting candidates to their open jobs, begin opening another pipeline through which to bring in talent? Politicians and CEOs alike are beginning to think so. Perhaps in another ten, or fifteen, or twenty years, apprenticeships will change the way we enter the workforce, just like technology has changed how we work.