Riverside Community College District has discovered that the practices below have been the best strategies used to identify, assess, and evaluate a successful registered apprenticeship program. We have been blessed with fantastic leadership who has guided and advised us throughout this process. We now have a diverse team of apprenticeship experts carrying on this work, incorporating new industries and establishing new partnerships every day.
Apprenticeships are Student-Centered and Industry-Led: High-quality apprenticeship programs are designed around the apprentices they are serving (i.e. demographics, working conditions, skill-level, etc.), and establish incremental benchmarks of success along the journey. This means that programs must establish points-of-entry for lower skilled individuals to enter the workforce in a meaningful way that develops foundational skills and leads to near-term advances, such as wage increases, promotions, or other kinds of incentives. No matter what the occupational goal, successful programs first address the needs of the population they are serving and build from that starting point. For example, a technician apprenticeship program working with youth will provide different forms and content of supplemental instruction than the same technician apprenticeship program serving incumbent workers that have industry experience. Even though the occupational goal may be the same, the composition of the apprentice population will determine components like program duration, related instruction, work/school balance, wage progressions, and on-the-job training.
Only industry can evaluate, commit to, and provide the wage increases, job promotions, and incentives that apprentices are pursuing. Without committed industry partners that lead the development of the program, apprenticeships will struggle to provide realistic expectations for program participants. Programs that successfully outline expectations for apprentices see higher retention rates for apprentices and higher satisfaction rates from industry partners. It requires consistent industry-based champions to provide that kind of leadership.
Industry Partners are Invested in Both the Individual Apprentice and the Program Overall: Successful programs require industry investment. The highest investment industry partners make is in the individual apprentices themselves. Industry makes this investment by paying apprentice wages during the on-the-job learning period. It is an investment that shows return for the employer but also comes with risk. Apprentices may leave after the training period or may fail to progress at the desired rate. Successful programs maintain strong partnerships with employers that understand and accept this risk/reward dynamic and remain committed to the process. National statistics show that 91% or registered apprentices are retained after their training. Industry partners commit both to the individuals they train, but also understand that for the program to succeed it needs to run at scale and be sustainable.
Successful Programs Focus on Multi-employer Structures that Aggregate Workforce and Skill Needs: Programs that have grown to larger numbers and sustained for longer periods tend to rely on partnering groups of employers in a “cluster.” For example, apprenticeship programs that bring together a group of manufacturers typically grow larger and sustain longer than programs that serve only one business. This requires more intermediary work on the program administrators, but it allows the program to aggregate the workforce and deliver the program in a cost-effective manner. Small and midsize businesses typically struggle to manage full apprenticeship programs due to their internal capacity and knowledge, but in an aggregated group they can offer outstanding on-the-job learning to registered apprentices. In addition, this structure has been shown to increase access and equity across the apprentice population by broadening the number of entry-points into apprenticeship training.
Effective Programs are Not an “Alternative” to Higher Education: Successful programs integrate higher education partnerships so that their apprentices receive college credit, certificates and/or other academic degrees as part of their apprenticeship training. This integration allows for more portability and career mobility for apprentices as they pursue advancement after their apprenticeship ends. This takes additional time to set up and requires partnerships with local education agencies that can provide accredited instruction, but it provides greater impact for the participants throughout their career.
Successful programs will often “pilot” new training and work overtime with their education partner to accredit that curriculum and qualify apprentice instructors.
Programs Leverage Multiple Resources to Deliver a Consistent Model: One of the unintended consequences of the multiple state and federal apprenticeship funding initiatives is that the users (businesses and career-builders) are confused about what to expect from an apprenticeship. Historically, most registered apprenticeships were run consistently through Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees and featured well defined linear pathways from entry-to-journey-level training. In addition, funding for programs was consistently tied to public work codes and collective bargaining arrangements.
As we have pushed the apprenticeship model in new industries and found new methods of funding the programs, we are seeing a lot of variation of what users can expect to experience from registered apprenticeship. This will likely only continue – especially as the Department of Labor introduces Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs and Standards Recognition Entities, along with expansion on sponsorships Successful programs offer a consistent and easily articulated value proposition to users and maintain that value for years and decades. As programs run, they learn to leverage multiple kinds of funding without losing a sense of the product and value they provide users. This takes time to develop, but successful programs are intentional about asserting the model of apprenticeship of any short-term funding.