Expanding work-based learning programs, including registered apprenticeships, is one of the many roles the colleges of the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) is undertaking to serve the needs of the local community. This expansion will allow colleges to strengthen partnerships with business and industry and allows for the customization of programs tailored to the specific education, skills, and credentials needed to meet the local employer’s hiring needs.
For employers who wish to participate in these registered programs they obtain an incredible competitive advantage in developing and hiring the best students in our programs. Involvement with local instructors allows these businesses the opportunity to engage early with the student in the classroom and on the job as apprentices. These engagements will drive better employee recruitment, improve onboarding of skilled employees, increase retention, and lead to increases in productivity. For the student, these registered apprenticeships afford them a tremendous opportunity to earn excellent, progressive wages through on-the-job learning with the employer all while they learn and acquire valuable skills and credentials with the college.
Over the past several months as these programs have been created, several best practices have been identified by ACCS colleges.
Plant Tours: Our colleges are encouraging employers thinking of or participating in registered apprenticeship programs to offer plant tours and job shadowing for students to expose them to real life, on-the-job work and working conditions prior to entering apprenticeship programs. These activities help with student recruitment and retention for both the college and the employer. These awareness activities can foster career exploration, excitement, and engagement. While these are excellent, positive outcomes, understanding the actual job performance, working conditions, and requirements in the workplace is vitally important for students to understand prior to them getting too far into college programs and then deciding that career pathway is not for them. Plant tours and job shadowing is an incredibly important awareness activity for every work-based learning program that should take place with the student during both their secondary and postsecondary education journey.
Pre-Apprenticeship Programs: ACCS colleges are developing pre-apprenticeship programs that will align such that an individual can transition into a registered apprenticeship program allowing a natural progression for the student to continue a pathway earning skills and credentials while they prepare for entry into a high-demand occupation. This is particularly vital for adult education students. Progress made at this level must serve as a catapult for the adult education student for retention in college career technical education (CTE) programs and to continue to add skilled workers to the workforce pipeline.
Flexibility: For instructional purposes, many of ACCS’s colleges have implemented flexibility in instructional labs to meet these students where they are. College instructors are extending lab hours well into the evening and more frequently throughout the week to accommodate student apprentices work schedules. This alone has removed barriers that in the past prevented students and potential students from enrolling into our CTE programs and gaining valued industry-recognized skills and credentials. Ultimately, this type of instructional innovation will lead to increased enrollments and greater student successes.
Work-based learning is a priority for Alabama’s Community Colleges and will continue to expand and evolve as we expand on best practices and implement additional programs.