Apprenticeship programs are simultaneously experiencing a major resurgence and undergoing a serious makeover. However, until recently, there has been considerable debate regarding whether these programs are worthwhile. In 2018, a research study conducted in the U.K. revealed discrepancies between the recruitment and wages of male and female apprentices but also “a positive earning differential … in many contexts” as a result of apprenticeship.

In addition to the monetary value they can provide, apprenticeships offer substantial other benefits to the participant, with Forbes citing mentorship, hands-on experience, exposure to different areas of an organization, the acquisition of specific job skills and the opportunity to demonstrate mastery as just a few.

The companies that provide these programs benefit as well. Let’s assess the need for apprenticeship in the modern workplace and the many ways organizations can close skills gaps with apprenticeship programs.

Understanding the Need for Apprenticeships

Governments across the globe are incentivizing organizations to offer apprenticeship programs in order to meet the demand for career development opportunities for workers outside of the traditional — and expensive — four-year college route. As Eric Seleznow, director of the Center for Apprenticeship and Work-based Learning at JFF, says, the journey to professional success is “no longer a linear path.” In order to avoid “crushing debt” and “student loans,” young people and adults are turning to apprenticeship in their pursuit of professional development.

Additionally, the number and types of industries offering apprenticeship training are expanding in order to close the ever-widening skills gaps pervading the modern workforce. Alongside traditional trade skill apprenticeships, industries such as IT, health care and cybersecurity have begun to implement apprenticeship programs in the hopes of building a workforce that can achieve critical competencies and meet the necessary demands of the fast-paced, tech-driven, global marketplace.

Sophie Adelman, co-founder of WhiteHat, points to the rise of the digital economy as a leading cause of apprenticeship’s expansion into “white-collar” jobs. “As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, every developed economy around the world is facing a major skills gaps, and there is a pressing need for job training and reskilling,” she says. “Apprenticeships are key to tackling this problem by training the workforce in the right skills for the future.”

Tom Ogletree, senior director of social impact and external affairs at General Assembly, shares that sentiment and says that apprentices can not only master deeply technical manufacturing roles but also develop “skills in fields like data analytics, digital marketing, product management and software design.”

Reducing Recruiting Costs and Improving Employee Retention

Relying on recent graduates to fill the skills gaps in your organization can present risks. “Large companies have historically relied on university graduates for their entry-level roles,” Adelman says. “However, a degree doesn’t necessarily provide the right skills many of today’s top employers are looking for.” Recent graduates may be well versed in the concepts and theories applicable to their new roles but lack the hands-on experience needed for high performance.

“Apprenticeships help reduce recruiting costs,” says Ankur Gopal, founder and CEO of Interapt. Bringing on apprentices in your organization provides the opportunity to “guide and mentor them in a short period of time.”

Cultural fit plays an important role in reducing recruiting costs as well. Dara Warn, chief operating officer of Penn Foster, says apprenticeship programs enable companies “to see how someone is working and being part of the organization” before stepping into their new roles. Rather than hiring a permanent employee who turns out to be underqualified or a poor culture fit, apprenticeship programs give organizations the opportunity to monitor progress and assess compatibility.

Seleznow says that apprenticeships also create a “workforce that sticks around” — which is critical, because it is hard to close skills gaps when turnover rates are through the roof. Gopal agrees that organizations that offer apprenticeship opportunities are sure to “see an uptick in retention.” He attributes this result to a sense of loyalty to an organization that facilitates and encourages professional development: “Most people who go through a program with an organization that gives them a first chance tend to stay longer, as long as there’s a pathway for growth.”

Curating Your Workforce

Developing apprentices skills to meet the specific needs of your organization is an effective way to close skills gaps. “The notion of curating your own workforce is really what we see a lot of employers focus on,” says Warn, “and apprenticeships [are] one way that you can do that.” Apprenticeships help organizations and facilitators be intentional about the curriculum and learning objectives in order to build a workforce that meets business demands.

Organizations can also be deliberate about pairing apprentices with mentors who will guide them to success. Ogletree says that apprentices “have the opportunity to move right into teams of workers who are helping to support other businesses’ software needs and are getting to break into the world of work in a team context, where they have mentors and coaches.”

Of course, without a strong learning and mentoring culture, your apprenticeship programs are less likely to succeed. Coaching and apprenticeship together enable organizations to align their needs and the skills of their workforce. Gopal warns that apprenticeship “requires a level of mentorship; it requires a level of peer interaction and support. A lot of companies may not have that culture readily built into their organization.”

Before taking the initial steps to bring in apprentices, be sure that your organization has the leadership and time to commit to supporting their success.

Initiating the Ripple Effect

Apprenticeship programs benefit both the organization and the apprentice while also having a significant impact on communities at large. Gopal says, “The community benefits, and the local economy benefits in creating a citizen’s development program that helps the community thrive.”

Implementing these programs in underrepresented communities is integral to initiating local and societal change. As a result, Ogletree believes that it’s important for organizations to ask, “How do we help members of underserved and overlooked communities who may not have had access to education or professional opportunities … [receive] exposure to training in different disciplines and move them to meaningful work in the digital economy?”

Additionally, Gopal says, apprenticeships have the power to create “a strong sense of purpose [within] the organization, which is a very high factor for not only employees, [who] want to work at companies that have a clear purpose and mission to help the community, but also customers, who are now basing their choices on the social impact of [the] corporation [they’re supporting].” With apprenticeships, your employees will want to stay with you, and your customers will continue to support you.

Ogletree advises companies to err on the side of caution when it comes to “the idea that apprenticeships are the silver bullet for addressing a lot of the issues that we’re seeing in the education and workforce space.” There’s a lot of work to do to close the major skills gaps present in the modern workforce and even more to make professional development and social mobility accessible to all. However, with effective apprenticeships programs, organizations can set out to close the deepening skills divide while promoting social equity.