It’s clear that the labor market has been disrupted over the past few years. From The Great Resignation to The Great Reshuffle, it’s a job seeker’s labor market and employers are trying to keep up with growth, stagnation or even potential closure. The misalignment between employer expectations and job seeker abilities persists if we are not clearer about what the job opportunities are and how job seekers can develop the skills necessary to be successful. But there are clear pathways for employers to foster alignment such as making a shift toward skills-based hiring and adopting adult apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are long-term work-based learning programs to develop specific skills for identified roles at a company. They can help employers remain competitive, grow their workforce tailored to their needs and retain critical talent. The apprentice participates in on-the-job training as well as related instructional coursework working toward an industry recognized credential and can be registered through the U.S. Department of Labor or exist as a standalone program.

Making a Case for Adult Apprenticeship

Incredible progress has been made over the past decade expanding apprenticeship programs and increasing participation throughout the country. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, registered apprenticeships have seen a 64% increase adding nearly 2 million new apprentices since 2012 nationally. This growth was stunted by COVID-19, when there was a 12% decrease in new apprentices in fiscal year (FY)20 and rebounded by a 9% increase in FY21. This leaves a deficit of 3%, or approximately 17,250 apprentices, that we must regain to be at pre-pandemic growth and continue to rise to meet market need.

More intentionality needs to be done to regain losses from the pandemic and increase the diversity in apprenticeship. Of the 547,922 active apprentices in FY21, individuals identifying as female made up only 13.4% of the group versus 83.2% who identified as male. This highlights the continued disproportionate gender representation to the current labor force composition, with 47% identifying female and 53% male in 2020.

An imbalance in registered apprenticeship is also present among different ethnicities. As of July 1, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the population at 76.3% white and 13.4% Black or African American while active apprentices for FY21 respectively was 45.9% and 7.6%. More than 19% of active apprentices did not self-identify and there was a significant difference in participation with the Asian population at 5.9% and active apprentices only at 1.5%.

The data for registered apprenticeships highlight the disparities and the need to continuously build and diversify apprenticeship programs nationally. But the data only shows a portion of the total apprenticeship and work-based learning ecosystem. Apprenticeship programs have been built in nontraditional roles and industries that last anywhere from one to four years to tailor, respond and be flexible to employer and participant needs. This is a step in the right direction to offer additional opportunities for skill development to more individuals from various backgrounds.

How to Start an Adult Apprenticeship Program

Let’s take a look at these six steps to inclusively upskill and reskill your workforce with a skills-based adult apprenticeship program:

1.      Choose an occupation.

Apprenticeships are great for training learners in hard to fill job roles and/or anticipating significant training needs. If your company has a certain way of completing a specific task, an apprenticeship program can help integrate on-the-job learning with industry recognized credentials to support the full skill development needed for someone to be successful in your organization. Once you’ve chosen your occupation for the apprenticeship program, figure out how many spots you’re able to host and start identifying the costs to include time for current employees to support the apprentice, materials, wages and benefits.

2.      Identify the competencies.

The next step is to brainstorm all the competencies a worker would need to know to be successful in the role with other team members and skilled professionals. The current job listing and description can help identify which competencies are already there and career pathway resources. This step is crucial to challenge your team to focus on the competencies and needed skills for the job role and how it contributes to the organization.

Once you have listed all the competencies, decide what competencies are required by day one. Some competencies are required since some level of proficiency is needed for individuals to be successful in the program. Competencies for which you can train learners are “preferred” skills. For adult apprenticeship programs, both required and preferred skills should be noted in the training plan to measure skill gain over the time of the program.

3.      Connect with training providers.

Because you’ve identified the skills for which your organization does not have the time or resources to train, building partnerships with training providers helps to address the skill development for the preferred competencies. Training providers can be found in many places including community colleges, nonprofits, higher education and eligible training and provider lists. Make sure to ask what funding sources these partners have access to because there are a lot of state and federal dollars and grant programs that support the cost of the programs, especially in high demand occupations.

4.      Source from diverse stakeholders and community partners.

Connect with organizations and programs with diverse representation via job boards and social networks to share job opportunities and expand your reach. Building relationships with community partners and centers who work directly with job seekers are wonderful sources of diverse qualified talent. Since you’re clear on needed skills and competencies for the apprenticeship, you can widen and attract a more qualified talent pool. You can also encourage transferable skills from other industries and occupations to be considered for the apprenticeship program. Establishing diversity goals to achieve before closing the application process ensures your apprenticeship program reaches the full community.

5.      Use skills-based hiring practices.

At this stage, individuals are applying for your apprenticeship program, and you may not be able to accommodate them all. This is when screening, interviewing and selecting potential new apprentices is essential. By using the skills defined in the apprenticeship program and associated application, there is a clear and connected process for decision making to be focused on skills. This clarity helps reduce bias in the selection process and provides greater insight into what skill sets potential apprentices already have to build an effective training plan.

6.      Onboard with purpose.

Be intentional about building a training plan. Include any required and preferred skills as well as any other competencies your apprentices will need to know to be considered for the program. For example, these skills could include digital and financial literacy to support economic mobility and vitality over time. Onboarding and training are also opportunities for current employees to support apprentices in their skill development as well as advance their own skills and career.

Apprenticeships are an essential way to build an inclusive talent pipeline. Using skills-based practices can help reduce biases by focusing the programs definition, application and selection process on building skills and growing talent in the organization.