The evaluation of an apprenticeship programs success is dependent on the number of years it has been in place. The more data available, the better and more accurate the assessment. The fact that a program has existed for several years, is not an indication of success. The number of applicants, apprentices entering the program, enrolled in the program, and retained in the program are significant factors, as is the number of job placements available for apprentices and Journeyworkers, both current and historically. The number of apprentices not completing the program and the reasons for the lack of completion must also be considered. All these statistics when analyzed together, can be used to measure the success rate of the program, and its current state of health.
Using the data and gathering qualitative information to include the satisfaction of employers and apprentices, gives a solid point to assess the program’s success. This information will also help to identify deficits, as well as strategies which might improve the program moving forward. The two most important aspects of a successful apprenticeship program are its sustainability, and the quality of its product.
Below is a list of the strategies the University of Alaska Anchorage has employed successfully, as well as some of the lessons learned as a program sponsor.
The first criteria of a successful apprenticeship program are sustainability. A program that only meets the needs of one employer will not create enough of a labor demand to sustain itself unless the company is large enough to employ several apprentices per year. A more effective model includes several employers in the industry who are invested in hiring apprentices for the same occupation. If the number of apprentices completing the program meets the demand for skilled workers without flooding the labor market it is a good indication of sustainability.
Collaboration of a committee with members from multiple entities within your organization including industry, is important to obtain buy-in from all stakeholders. A successful apprenticeship program should be built to withstand the test of time, by building a solid foundation essential for a sustainable quality program. This starts with good research and economic data to support a new program.
Collect the labor market research that is already available from the state or federal government or municipality. Wherever there are unemployment statistics there will be data concerning skilled occupations that are difficult to fill. Identify which occupations align with curriculum already offered at your institution and speak to the faculty in those departments. Begin identifying the employers that will hire the apprentices from this program. A good place to start is with an academic program’s advisory board. Target the companies already involved with the college and arrange to be invited to the next college advisory board meeting or reach out and meet with them individually. Some of our best successes have been achieved by knocking on doors and distributing leaflets with follow-up visits and phone calls.
Employers are key stakeholders that bring everything together, without them there are no jobs, as all apprenticeships are employer led. Maintaining good relationships with your employers is the most important aspect of building a sustainable apprenticeship program. Pay attention to them and make certain that they are confirming your labor market research. Listen to their concerns and explore strategies to address them. Respect their right to choose whom to employ as an apprentice, whether it is a student from the college, or to promote from within, and do your best not to ask for anything that will cost them money. When they establish trust and are brought up to speed on your program you can formalize this partnership.
In the beginning, sometimes you must begin by defining what apprenticeship are and the value they would bring to their company. Many times, you must dispel the myths and address any misconceptions around registered apprenticeships.
The related technical instruction should align with the on-the-job training as close as possible. If it does not match exactly, it should be relevant to what is occurring at work. Remove general education requirements from the curriculum that are not relevant and make that piece optional by offering a certificate or college degree for the student as an option. Additionally, making the additional courses available online will help degree completion and overall success. Provide qualified instructors, find experienced technically qualified faculty to teach or assist whenever possible. Create classes to fill gaps in your training, they do not have to be “for credit classes” to be effective training, and relevant to the occupation. Listen to your subject matter experts, their insights are tempered by experience and should not be overlooked. For example, CPR, First-Aid and OSHA 10 cards are common requirements for multiple occupations.
The apprentice’s wage must be enough to attract hardworking, motivated people. Employers are sometimes reluctant to pay wages that are attractive in today’s economy. Often this is the reason for the shortage of skilled workers in specific occupations. Set a percentage of the industries median wage (usually found with the labor market statistics) with annual or semiannual increases eventually arriving at Journeyworker wage and wage increases. This has traditionally been a challenge in negotiations, but eventually we make strides especially when the demand for specific occupations are needed. Further, attempt to secure funding for the apprentice’s tuition and, if appropriate, their tools or related work expenses to assist and break down barriers to help ensure a successful start for the apprentice’s future.
Collaboration and partnership do not always mean working with only local business and industry. many times, we must look internally for programmatic success. As an example, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) consists of multiple colleges and centers. The AACC ECCA initiative originally was established within UAA’s Community and Technical College (CTC). Since this initiative was launched, the CTC has partnered internally with UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute and Center for Strategic Partnerships and Research. Through this outreach, the University of Alaska Anchorage is in the process of developing an entirely new apprenticeship program for research technicians to support the mission of the Applied Environmental Research Center at UAA. This research center can provide jobs internally within the UAA system for students to serve in a registered apprenticeship program working in the fields of Natural Science, Environmental Engineering, Wildlife Biology/Ecology, and numerous other environmental fields on research projects where UAA works in conjunction with several federal and state entities.