How to Start an Apprenticeship Program

Apprenticeship instruction

Apprenticeships are vital to develop a skilled talent pipeline for many manufacturers but far too many don’t consider apprenticeships as a viable alternative for talent development for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Lack of understanding of apprenticeship programs and how they work
  • Lack of personnel to commit to the required mentoring for apprentices
  • Lack of resources for related technical instruction
  • Lack of ability to wait the length of time needed for an apprenticeship program (2-3 years) to have a fully skilled employee

While all of these are valid concerns, I hope to convince the readers that apprenticeship programs are far more accessible than ever and are a viable option for developing your talent pool.

What is an Apprenticeship Program?

An apprenticeship is designed to provide a talent pipeline for manufacturers.  Either the manufacturer, a consortium of manufacturers, a workforce intermediary such as an industry association, a community college or a community organization can sponsor an apprenticeship. Sponsors are responsible for the administration and operation of the apprenticeship program.  No matter who sponsors the program, apprenticeship programs require three primary components:

  • Related Technical Instruction (RTI) – This is the instruction by either the company or a third party (such as a community college). This education component is intended to provide the classroom or virtual technical training to help apprentices obtain skills they need to do a production or office job.  The education must be credentialed for an apprenticeship program to allow transferability of skills from one job to another. The Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship website provides this link to connect with education partners in your area:  Find Education Partners.
  • On-the-Job Learning/Mentorship – This provides the opportunity for the apprentice to utilize the skills they obtain in the classroom training on the job floor under the guidance of a mentor. Mentors are typically seasoned employees willing to share their experience with apprentices.  Organizations like RADD Training provide training for mentors in a variety of industries.
  • Progressive Wage Increases – Manufacturers must offer apprentices wage increases as they achieve certain apprenticeship milestones. The manufacturer can choose the milestone and the amount of the wage increase.  Manufacturers must also pay employees during the duration of the apprenticeship.

How Do You Start an Apprenticeship Program?

According to the Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship website, here are the steps you should take to start an apprenticeship program.

  1. Select an Occupation for Your Program and Verify That It Has Been Approved for Apprenticeships – Manufacturers should evaluate where their greatest hiring needs are. These may be the positions with the greatest number of workers, or the highest turnover.  They may also be the most difficult positions to hire for. Typical ones in manufacturing are welders, CNC operators, first-line supervisors, and maintenance workers.  Once you have identified the occupations, you must verify that the position has been approved for apprenticeships. The Department of Labor provides this link to verify the occupations that are approved:  Occupation Finder.
  2. Identify Sponsors and Partners: If you can’t take the responsibility for administering and operating the apprenticeship program, you should find a partner to sponsor your program.  As noted above, the Department of Labor provides a website to help you find partners by need, by name or by location.  You may also need a partner for the Related Technical Instruction component of the apprenticeship.
  3. Connect with the Experts: After identifying partners and sponsors/partners, the next step to starting your apprenticeship program is to connect with the experts at the Office of Apprenticeship or State Apprenticeship agency.  The Department of Labor provides a link to connect manufacturers to these experts.
  4. Develop the Core Components of Your Program: There are seven core components of an apprenticeship program, including the three noted above:
    1. Industry-Led – Apprenticeships should be industry-vetted and align with industry standards.
    2. Paid Job – As noted above, apprentices must be paid and receive a wage increase or a series of them during the apprenticeship.
    3. Structured On-the-Job Learning/Mentorship – As noted above.
    4. Supplemental Education – As noted above under Related Technical Instruction (RTI).
    5. Diversity – According to the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship website, “Programs are designed to reflect the communities in which they operate through strong non-discrimination, anti-harassment, and recruitment practices to ensure access, equity, and inclusion.”.
    6. Quality and Safety – Apprentices are provided safety instruction and equipment as well as worker protections during the apprenticeship program.
    7. Credentials – As noted above, in order for skills to be transferable, apprenticeship RTI must lead to a portable, nationally-recognized credential within the industry.
  5. Launch and Manage the Program: You must register your program with the Department of Labor and they provide a website to register your program.   In addition, they also provide assistance with recruiting talent, identifying funding opportunities and peer learning opportunities.

As you can see, while creating an apprenticeship program involves some time and energy, there are many resources to guide you along the process.  If you need assistance with developing or managing your apprenticeship program, I highly recommend RADD Training. They are manufacturing apprenticeship experts and they walk you through the entire process!

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