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Expanding on the Success of a Regional Registered Apprenticeship Program

emale Electronics Factory Worker in Blue Work Coat and Protective Glasses
Credit: iStock/gorodenkoff

The current talent pipeline for manufacturing is not adequate to fill existing job openings, let alone the number of skilled workers that will be needed in the future. Emerging demand for data analysts and semiconductor technicians will require a more collaborative approach to expand training opportunities and reach into underrepresented populations to widen the pool of candidates.

That’s why the Center for Economic Growth, located in New York state’s Capital Region and part of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership, joined the Manufacturing Intermediary Apprenticeship Program (MIAP) in 2018 to expand its focus to include a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP). The program has specialty curricula for manufacturing positions such as:

  • Industrial manufacturing technician.
  • Electro-mechanical technician.
  • Machinist.
  • Welder.
  • Brewer/distiller.

In the past four years, it has added training for information technology (IT) related positions such as computer support technicians and data analysts. The program also added classes for semiconductor manufacturing technician positions, as the semiconductor industry is poised to receive more than $200 billion in private sector investments prompted by the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022.

Bringing structure and additional resources to apprenticeships

Many people are familiar with the on-the-job training aspect of apprenticeship programs, which have been part of the U.S. manufacturing sector for about a century. But informal and self-run apprenticeship programs have been a challenge to sustain due to changes in company priorities, market conditions, staffing needs, and more. RAPs bring together more stakeholders and sponsors to provide the necessary structural support to overcome barriers.

RAPs are unique in that they are validated by the Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency and often include government funding. They leverage the strengths of multiple sponsoring organizations to design and execute the program. What distinguishes RAPs is the related technical instruction, often provided by community colleges, that helps the apprentice understand the theory and principles behind what they’re learning on the job. Pairing related instruction with on-the-job training allows apprentices to apply the theoretical knowledge they gain in the classroom to their work environment. This contextualized learning is especially effective for adult learners.

About 93% of workers who complete registered apprenticeships gain employment and earn an annual average starting wage of $77,000, according to the Department of Labor. Employers reap a $1.47 return for every dollar spent on RAPs. Apprenticeships also offer clear and direct benefits to new employees – paid work experience, mentorship, classroom instruction, and a credential. Earn-and-learn models such as apprenticeships are crucial in today’s labor market so that people can enter jobs with little or no experience. In addition to being paid to learn, apprentices are paid according to a wage progression where they earn more as their skills increase. In many cases, students complete the program without any debt.

Apprenticeships benefit smaller manufacturers and specialty roles

The CEG program has 16 mostly smaller-sized companies participating. Many of them are machine shops that have one to five apprentices at a time, and the duration of the apprenticeships vary from 16 to 48 months depending on the position. Several machine shops rely on the program to give younger staff the skills to work side-by-side with experienced machinists, helping the company prepare for impending retirements. They are hiring apprentices as young as age 18.

The program also includes specialty positions, such as with the brewer/distiller trade, which is driven by the region’s robust craft beverage industry. Unlike many manufacturing apprenticeships across the U.S., it includes IT positions, which are needed for the increased digitization that comes with Industry 4.0 applications.

The semiconductor manufacturing technician program has enrolled more than 50 apprentices with 10 graduates to date. Given this success, several semiconductor companies are looking to participate.

Lessons learned from the regional RAP

Remove traditional barriers for gender, diversity and underserved areas

In removing traditional hiring requirements such as some college experience, or even an associate degree, the apprenticeship program has helped diversify the talent pool for technician roles. The gender diversity for apprentices at one semiconductor partner is double that of its existing technician population. 

Apprenticeship appeals to all ages

This open hiring process, with little to no experience required, has demonstrated that people from every stage in their working lives are willing to consider careers in manufacturing. In the first two years of the program, 44% of participants were between the ages of 18-24 and looking to launch their careers, 44% were between the ages of 25-39 and looking to make an early or mid-career transition, and 11% were between the ages of 40-59.

While age does not matter, the selection process is crucial

There is much to be gained from accepting people of different ages and experience levels into the workforce. The apprenticeship participants making a career change knew they did not need related experience. Many were coming from retail and food service, which also serves as a reminder to create different candidate profiles for marketing open positions. One semiconductor company not only created a job description for its 16-month apprenticeship program, but it also did additional screening to ensure higher retention. While this strategy has been effective for attraction and retention, other manufacturers have found success in requiring a new hire to reach the 90-day mark before entering into an apprenticeship program.

Be agile to deal with emerging challenges

Throughout the program, organizers solicited feedback from participants and developed new strategies to support the apprentices’ success. For example, learning the mathematics required for the job proved challenging for some participants. The related instruction provider , Hudson Valley Community College, developed a math pre-assessment for proper course alignment and an online refresher course to aid math readiness. These adult learners also benefited greatly from the one-on-one tutoring the college offered..

Be willing to individualize career paths

Apprentices coming into the RAP had differing career motivations:

  • Job focused – Candidates who are primarily job focused may not have the motivation, time, or interest for academic advancement.
  • Career focused – Career focused candidates are motivated for academic coursework and recognize its potential to accelerate their career growth. 
  • Career and academic focused – Candidates who are both career and academic focused are committed to both career and academic advancement to accelerate and broaden their career opportunities. 

It became important to connect how the classroom work applied to the workplace. For some participants, that means going from generalized studies to more technical or specialty work. For these individuals, a shorter term apprenticeship was attractive, such as a 16-month program for maintenance technicians. For others, it meant seeing a career path. That might mean stackable certifications and a 48-month apprentice program for a career such as computer numerical control (CNC) machinist, welder, or manufacturing engineering technician.

Leverage strategic regional partnerships

The apprenticeship program benefits from its diverse partners:

  • CEG, as a group sponsor, provides program oversight for policies and procedures, assists with administration, and coordinates funding streams.
  • The Manufacturing Association of Central New York is a trade group for local companies and lead partner on the MIAP Alliance.
  • The National Institute for Innovation and Technology tailored the apprenticeship programming and curriculum for the semiconductor industry.
  • The State University of New York system, including regional community colleges, provided funding and support for related instruction so that many apprentices graduate debt-free.
  • The New York State Department of Labor validates RAPs.

Your local MEP Center can connect you to registered apprenticeships

Your local MEP Center can help you determine what an apprenticeship program could bring to your company. They can help connect you with RAPs and appropriate workforce development resources.

About the author

Christine McLear

Christine is the Director of Workforce Development for the Center for Economic Growth, which is part of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership and part of the MEP National Network™. She has...

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