Lessons Learned from the American Apprenticeship Initiative



Registered apprenticeship has traditionally experienced the most popularity in the skilled trades, and for several years was utilized at low and declining rates across the United States. Interest in expanding the use of registered apprenticeship began to increase as major successes using the model were observed in countries such as Britain and Switzerland, as well as in leading states such as South Carolina. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor made a historic and unprecedented investment in the future of the American workforce. The $175 million, five-year American Apprenticeship Initiative (AAI) grant program was the largest federal investment made to date in support of expanding registered apprenticeship in the United States, particularly into new sectors and more diverse populations. Its goal was to register at least 34,000 new apprentices in high-growth and high-tech industries such as health care, information technology (IT) and advanced manufacturing by 2020, especially from populations traditionally underrepresented in apprenticeship including women and people of color.

Since March 2020, the American economy has been under stress because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which occurred during the final half-year of AAI. In this environment, registered apprenticeship will continue to be an important long-term education and talent development strategy. Millions of workers have been laid off temporarily or permanently, particularly those in industries such as hospitality, retail and tourism were required to close to encourage social distancing. These industries will need qualified workers if and when their businesses are able to safely reopen. On the other hand, a number of sectors including health care, manufacturing and information technology (IT) have continued to experience significant and evolving workforce needs throughout the crisis. With the nature of work rapidly changing in many sectors, ‘hands-on’ work experience is increasingly vital for worker success. A skilled workforce will be foundational to a strong and more equitable economic recovery, and registered apprenticeship provides a proven avenue through which to deliver that much needed talent.

Registered apprenticeship is a workforce and education strategy that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support at both the federal and state levels. RAPs provide workers from all backgrounds with the skills and knowledge they need to acquire well-paying jobs that are critical to today’s labor market. These programs can particularly benefit workers who have limited financial means because workers in RAPs earn and learn at the same time. In total, 94% of apprentices are offered continued employment after completing their programs, with an average starting annual salary of $70,000.

Employers also see the benefits of registered apprenticeship, a strategy for identifying and cultivating talent while equipping workers with the skills employers need. Apprentices are likely to be more loyal to the companies that invest in them than the average non-apprentice hire, and employees hired through apprenticeship improve their employer’s productivity and profitability. Studies from the United States and around the globe demonstrate the payoff: For every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get back an estimated $1.47 on average in increased productivity, reduced waste and greater frontline innovation.

“I was underemployed, working menial low-paying jobs. One right after the other. I worked the overnight shift. I made less than 10 dollars an hour… There was no upward movement. That was my future. That is no longer my future thanks to the grant-funded program. Now, I know that I will graduate as a nationally certified pharmacy technician. It means that I will be able to get into the workforce with a career… and I can provide a good quality of life for my family.”

CVS Health pharmacy technician from Dallas Community College, partner of AAI grantee Houston Community College

AAI grantees successfully grew the RAP model into new industries and extended it to more diverse populations. AAI grantees included a variety of state and local agencies, postsecondary educational institutions, labor unions, industry associations, local workforce boards and nonprofit organizations (NPOs) in partnership with business and other community representatives. Each grantee partnership was awarded between $2 million and $5 million to build new programs or expand preexisting programs in high-growth occupations that had not previously taken advantage of the apprenticeship model, with a focus on engaging underserved populations. Each grantee identified target populations based on the regions and industries in which the grantee operated.

Many of the AAI grantees were pioneers in finding new ways to modernize registered apprenticeship. In many cases, it took grantees years to create programs and develop the robust partnerships that are essential for the program’s long-term success. As a result of their efforts, employers such as JPMorgan Chase, CVS Health, Marriott, Dartmouth Hitchcock, Bosch, and city and state government agencies agreed to sponsor or host apprentices. (See Appendix C for a description of each AAI grantee and examples of the sectors and businesses with which they worked.) Apprentices in these structured RAPs are primed for success at the workplace and for further education, if they desire it.

As of June 2020 the 44 AAI grantees initiated 2,019 new programs, registered 24,675 apprentices, of which 14,486 were from underrepresented populations, and served a total of 34,238 participants through their registered apprenticeship programs as well as pre-apprenticeship programs and other related activities. As of June 30, 2020, 4,680 individuals have completed an AAI-supported RAP, a number that is expected to grow as many of the RAPs created and expanded as a result of AAI will continue after grant completion.

The grant results contribute significantly to the ongoing expansion of the registered apprenticeship model, but the underlying goal of AAI extends well beyond these numbers or the grant performance time frame. Through AAI, DOL seeks to better understand how and why some apprenticeship programs flourish. The agency looks to share those promising practices with policymakers, educators, employers and organizations across the country to inform the development of more high-quality RAPs.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) prepared this report to share promising practices and lessons learned through AAI. The report highlights factors that lead to successful outcomes for RAPs, drawing on what worked well for AAI grantees – including the top tier of highest-performing grantees. Governors and state and federal policymakers are encouraged to reference this report when deciding which types of organizations, programs or apprenticeship-building activities to support. Likewise, organizations interested in developing quality apprenticeship programs can learn from the experiences of the AAI grantees and the promising practices outlined in this report.

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Author: Editor
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