Apprenticeship Programs a Key Workforce Strategy in States

States and businesses continue to recover from the Great Recession, and they are doing so in an environment shaped by two historic shifts related to economic and workforce development. The first is the return of manufacturing jobs to the United States and the second is new technological requirements of these jobs. While job opportunities continue to grow, today’s factories require greater levels of technical knowledge from employees.

But with these new jobs come new challenges in the form of preparing a workforce equipped with the skills and competencies required for a rapidly evolving workplace—filling the critical skills gap among today’s workers as well as students preparing to enter the future workforce. In 2015, the Manufacturing Institute projected that the coming decade would produce 3.5 million manufacturing jobs but that the skills gap would result in 2 million of those jobs being very difficult for employers to fill. 

State policymakers are turning to apprenticeship programs as a key strategy in addressing skills gaps and meeting the labor needs of employers.  

The U.S. Department of Labor, or DOL, highlights apprenticeship programs as job training programs that provide significant benefits for both businesses and employees. Employees are able to earn on average $50,000 per year while in employer-paid training programs that allow the apprentice to earn a two- or four-year degree. Over their lifetime, apprentices earn an average of $300,000 more than their non-apprentice peers. For businesses, the programs correlate with lower turnover rates, improved productivity, and a more custom-trained and experienced workforce, resulting in a typical return of $1.47 for every dollar invested in apprenticeship programs, according to DOL data.

Apprenticeships are gaining momentum and renewed focus in Kentucky through a new $100 million workforce development fund to jumpstart training and employment opportunities. Under the leadership of Gov. Matt Bevin, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet recently introduced the “Kentucky Trained. Kentucky Built.” initiative. 

Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey told CSG’s The Current State he hopes the new campaign will help employers and future workers alike understand the benefits of the program. “Apprenticeships can provide workforce solutions for nearly any industry, and I am taking every opportunity to share these benefits with employers, unions and potential apprentices,” said Ramsey. “With 1,100 current employers in Kentucky already utilizing apprenticeships, my goal is to see this number grow.”

In April 2016, the White House highlighted Iowa’s efforts to triple its investment in apprenticeship programs since 2014. 

“As Lt. Gov. (Kim) Reynolds and I travel around all of Iowa’s 99 counties, we are consistently reminded of the key challenge that employers face in our state—their workforce,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told CSG.  “Businesses ask:  How will we grow our business if we can’t find individuals with the right skills? How can we serve our customers if we don’t have the people who are qualified to deliver the product and quality that our customers demand? How can we empower Iowans with the skills needed to help our businesses compete in a dynamic, global economy? We believe that registered apprenticeships are a key answer to a lot of these important questions from Iowa employers.” 

Branstad said he believes apprenticeships are more than just on-the-job training, but rather an important factor in helping meet the state’s long-term goal of having 70 percent of Iowans achieve education and training beyond high school by the year 2025. With an investment of $3 million in state funding, apprenticeships have become integrated into the state’s workforce development strategy. “I believe that registered apprenticeships are a key tool in our toolkit to grow Iowa’s talent pipeline and achieve our Future Ready Iowa goal,” said Branstad.

With their recent efforts, Kentucky and Iowa join other states such as California, Connecticut and Georgia in addressing the job training needs of today and tomorrow with an age-old workforce strategy.  Now industry leaders in the private sector and policymakers in government are working together and finding success with apprenticeships with renewed interest.