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Closing the Skills Gap with Apprenticeship Programs

apprenticeship programsAs more Baby Boomers retire, the skills gap continues to plague many states across the country. Some employers are looking to apprenticeship programs as one way to secure their next generation of employees.

According to the National Skills Coalition, close to half of all jobs in the state of Connecticut are considered ‘middle skill’ – requiring less than a four-year degree, but more than a high school education. And research shows that the demand for this class of workers will remain high over the next five years.

Middle-skill work in manufacturing and construction has traditionally been a good fit for apprenticeship programs. But more nontraditional roles in banking, law and healthcare have also gained popularity. According to recent data, U.S. businesses employed 358,000 apprentices in 2011 and 505,000 in 2017.

Many European countries, most notably Germany and Switzerland, have deeply-rooted and highly-successful apprenticeship programs that are a key component of their country’s educational system and workforce culture. Most teenagers in Switzerland are in apprenticeships. In Germany, apprenticeships have been around for hundreds of years and are backed by national trade unions. In the U.S., federally-registered programs only represent about 0.3% of the overall workforce.

How Apprenticeships Work
In the U.S., any employer interested in establishing an apprenticeship program must register with the U.S. Dept of Labor or their state’s labor agency. The Connecticut Dept of Labor includes The Office of Apprenticeship Training. More on that later.

Program participants are paid by the employer while they receive on-the-job training as well as training in an educational setting like a trade school. Once the participant completes the apprenticeship program, he or she receives a job as well as an industry-certified credential that is based on passing an assessment. The federal or state agency typically oversees the program to ensure quality standards are met.

Connecticut Programs
Here are two recent apprenticeship success stories out of Connecticut:

General Dynamics Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics that is a submarine builder for the U.S. Navy, brought back its apprenticeship program after receiving a $5 million federal grant.

General Dynamics Electric Boat collaborated with the Three Rivers Community College, Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA) and the Eastern Connecticut Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative to create customized programs that let participants get paid while they learned the skills required by General Dynamics.

PSEG Power Connecticut also recently announced a workforce development program to help individuals prepare for a career in the building trades. According to their website, the PSEG Ready2Work Apprenticeship Readiness Training program will consist of five classes over a 14-month period to help prepare Bridgeport residents for potential high-paying apprenticeships in various building trades.

The PSEG Ready2Work program was designed in accordance with commitments made in a Community Environmental Benefit Agreement (CEBA) and will be administered by The WorkPlace, the city’s workforce development agency, with training provided by Building Pathways Connecticut. Classes are slated to begin next month.

To help develop their workforce, Connecticut employers can establish and register an apprenticeship program through the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training. Companies can take advantage of wage subsidies, tuition reimbursements, training scholarships and tax credits.

The apprenticeships typically range from one to four years. At completion, the Office provides a portable training credential. Hundreds of companies currently participate. Additional information for employers and apprentices is available at the Connecticut Dept of Labor website.