Apprenticeships have been a form of passing skills onto the next generation of worker since before written history. In their most basic form, apprenticeships require the following:

  • An industry or field of work
  • A skills gap
  • A training program to close the skills gap

Modern apprenticeships have been formalized and have long been a staple within the traditional trades, such as carpentry, plumbing, masonry and electricians. Many organizations have adapted modern certification, licensing and formal education to augment their apprenticeship models and are part of The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL) Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP).

According to the DOL, “Registered apprenticeship training is distinguished from other types of workplace training by several factors”:

  • Employers pay participants.
  • Programs meet national or state standards.
  • Programs provide on-the-job learning and job-related technical instruction in the work setting and under the direction of one or more of the employer’s staff.
  • Participants receive “an industry-recognized and portal credential” upon successful completion of the program.

Industries outside of the traditional trades, including financial services, telecommunications, health care and IT, are now offering registered apprenticeships. The increase in registered apprenticeships in these industries may be due to the cost-prohibitive nature of a four-year college degree, along with a reevaluation of trades and their value from a return-on-investment (ROI) perspective. As a result, OT3A (other-than-traditional-trade apprenticeships) are gaining acceptance in the United States through registered apprenticeship programs; industry and association certifications; and formal on-the-job training (OJT).

OT3A is a classification framework, not a model. The difference between a model and framework was defined best by Tom Whelan, Ph.D., in his blog post “70-20-10 and the OSF Ration, Redux”:

“A model specifies and explains why something happens – in other words, it can be tested and shown to work or not work. A framework, on the other hand, describes the categories of ideas that supposedly account for why something happens – but it doesn’t necessarily explain it.”

One purpose of the OT3A framework is to redefine the trades. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce’s (CEW) 2018 report “Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs: High School, Middle Skills, and Bachelor’s Degree,” manufacturing jobs have been dwindling since the 1980s. The report cites “four interrelated economic trends: globalization, automation, upskilling, and the shift in good jobs away from manufacturing toward skilled-services industries such as information technology and healthcare.”

One problem with this shift is that our definition of a “trade” has not changed, even though the trades have. The OT3A classification signifies a way for the definition of trade to catch up with new and emerging trades. Where plumbing, pipefitting, welding and other technical trades led the way during the 2nd Industrial Revolution, OT3A can, and should, lead the way during the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The CEW report notes that “the middle-skills pathway accounts for 24%” of “good jobs.” This pathway includes associate degrees, postsecondary certificates, licenses and certifications — forms of education that “have been particularly innovative and responsive to changes in labor market demand.”

Training approaches have expanded to incorporate many methods included in the DOL’s apprenticeship model. Many fit in with point-of-need learning such as customized training and non-credit education. Couple these approaches with structured OJT, and learning and development (L&D) is in a position to bolster middle-skills pathways by championing the apprenticeship learning model.

You can use the following questions to assess whether your company’s jobs meet the framework to be classified as OT3A:

1. Determine if the trade is other than traditional.

Did the job exist 30 years ago? If not, then you can consider it a non-traditional trade. If it did, have there been significant advancements within the last three years? If so, then the skills necessary for entry-level employees means there has been a shift in the scope of the job.

2. Determine if the job’s primary form of training is a form of apprenticeship.

Can employees complete the initial job training at a community college or job training center or through OJT? If so, then it follows the apprenticeship model.

3. Can the employee complete training while working?

If the employee can work in the industry while completing related training, then it follows the DOL apprenticeship model.

As L&D professionals, we may not be in a position to register our program with the DOL. We are, however, in a position to build a training program using the DOL model. By implementing the RAP model for OT3A classified positions, L&D can help change how society defines “trade.”

To build a repository of OT3A classified professions, I encourage you to join my LinkedIn group, C 21 Apprenticeships, to highlight your organization’s non-traditional, new and emerging trade and describe how you have incorporated the apprenticeship model into your T&D program.

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