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What is it?

An apprenticeship is an "earn and learn" employment training model that combines classroom training with paid hands-on work experience and a clear career pathway after completion. Many successful apprenticeship programs are organized through collaborations between schools and training providers, employers, and community-based organizations, with support from the public sector. Apprenticeship programs are designed to support specific occupations, or categories of occupations, and have been broadly used in construction and other skilled trades. Today, the apprenticeship model has been successfully adopted in a range of other industries including health care, professional and financial services, and information technology. As the nation's workforce grows more diverse in the face of an uncertain future of work, policymakers and community leaders across the country are partnering with the private sector to develop new and more equitable apprenticeship pathways to middle-skills, living-wage jobs.

In addition to delivering tailored training to meet the workforce needs of employers and expanding access to stable, family-supporting careers for workers without a college degree, apprenticeships can be an effective tool for advancing racial economic inclusion. Historically, many apprenticeships were administered through labor unions, effectively serving as legacy programs for friends and family of union members and largely excluding people of color, women, and other disconnected job seekers. But advocates, educators, workers, and program designers can implement key strategies to embed equity throughout the apprenticeship process, from recruitment to job placement and beyond. By working with employers to identify apprenticeable opportunities, establishing pre-apprenticeship training in partnership with community-based organizations, aligning apprenticeships with existing job training and other services targeting disadvantaged workers, and adopting specific equity metrics for program delivery — apprenticeship programs can increase access to high-quality training and good jobs for people of color and low-income workers while also meeting industry needs.

In addition to the PolicyLink resources listed on the right, see COWS, Jobs for the Future Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning, and New America for more resources related to apprenticeships.

Who implements it?

  • Elected and appointed city officials can support the use of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in public sector jobs and support the use of public workforce dollars, including state and federal funding streams, for apprentice programs in the private sector. For non-traditional apprenticeable occupations, the public sector can provide start-up investment and anchor apprenticeship programs in collaboration with private sector employers.
  • Business leaders can participate in apprenticeship programs by working with training providers to offer paid apprentice employment and partnering with public agencies, unions, and community-based organizations to establish and secure resources for apprenticeship programs.
  • Community colleges can play a key role in providing classroom-based instruction, building relationships with employers, tracking the progress and skills of program participants, and issuing credentials.
  • Community-based organizations and other advocates can help recruit apprentices, organize pre-apprenticeship programs for those recruits, and partner with employers and training providers to offer wraparound supportive services for program participants.

Key considerations

Apprenticeship programs will have successful equity outcomes where there are entry points that intentionally include outreach to people of color, women, and low-income job seekers, including but not restricted to pre-apprenticeship training. Employers — including frontline workers who can serve as trainers and mentors — and industry groups should be continuously engaged in program design and improvements. Local leaders seeking to implement or support the use of apprenticeships must consider a range of key issues to advance successful and equitable programs.

  • Registered vs. unregistered: There are two types of apprenticeships: non-registered, employer-based programs and registered apprenticeships certified by either the U.S. Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency that must adhere to regulated standards. Registered apprenticeships typically run from one to three years and provide a portable, industry-recognized credential. Others are employer-based to serve the internal needs of a particular company and may or may not provide the same level of training and support as registered apprenticeships. The registered apprenticeship system is designed to encourage partnerships that ensure participants learn skills that are applicable to and transferable within the labor market, rather than tied to the needs of a single employer. Registered apprenticeships must include paid, on-the-job training under the supervision of skilled employees, ongoing assessment against established skills standards, and the attainment of an industry-recognized credential. They are also automatically placed on the Eligible Training Provider (ETP) list, which makes them eligible for federal and state workforce funds.
  • Employer engagement: The participation of employers is essential for apprenticeship programs to work. Both public and private employers can offer apprenticeship positions and contribute to program planning and design. Large development projects can be leveraged to create apprenticeships through community benefits agreements, local hiring provisions, and project labor agreements.
  • Pre-apprenticeships: Educators, service providers, and community-based organizations can offer pre-apprenticeship training to provide a bridge to apprenticeship programs, helping candidates build the skills necessary to qualify and succeed. Pre-apprenticeship providers should establish formal relationships with apprenticeship programs to create clear processes and expectations for transitioning into an apprenticeship position.
  • Costs: Registered apprenticeships are eligible for federal funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), but usually still require investment on the part of employers. Through these investments and employer participation in designing classroom and hands-on training, apprenticeship programs can benefit businesses by providing high-quality training that can help increase productivity and reduce turnover in the workforce.
  • Participant recruitment and support: Public agencies and community-based organizations can be helpful in ensuring that racial equity is embedded in the process of recruiting, selecting, and supporting apprentices by serving as outreach partners within the communities they serve. They can also provide wraparound supports to help apprentices overcome practical, logistical, and cultural barriers to success.
  • Job quality: In general, apprenticeships are covered by the same labor protections and benefits as other workers. While participants may be subject to a probationary employment period and a special pay range for the apprentice position, equitable apprenticeships should provide decent wages and support program graduates in securing stable, living-wage jobs.

Where is it working?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are over 150,000 employers using registered apprenticeship programs employing over half of a million employees in over 1,000 occupations. There are no records on the number of informal apprenticeship programs. The educational components of apprenticeship programs can be scaled up to regional and even state scales, but apprentices are employed with specific participating employers. The credentials earned through registered apprenticeship programs are recognized among many employers and federal and state governments.  Apprenticeship programs can be especially effective where there are participating labor unions that represent the workers and have master contracts or informal agreements with multiple employers in a region.

In 1995, firms in Charlotte launched Apprenticeship 2000, an innovative 4-year training program that puts high school juniors and seniors on career pathways in skilled technical trades such as electricians and machinists. After four years of paid training and work, apprentices earn a journeyman's certificate from the State of North Carolina as well as an associate's degree, and are guaranteed a job after graduation. Based on this successful model, Central Piedmont Community College launched Apprenticeship Charlotte to reach a broader pool of applicants (including military veterans and college students, connect with more employers, and to expand the training program beyond traditional skilled trades. Business leaders and policymakers can partner with diverse workforce intermediaries to scale or multiply such programs, integrating an explicit focus on racial equity and mitigating occupational segregation, to create a win-win proposition for regional employers (both large and small) and economically insecure families of color.

In San Francisco, City College of San Francisco offers the Information Security Apprenticeship Program, a registered apprenticeship program with a pre-apprenticeship component initially funded by the California Community College Chancellor's Office. The program helps train, employ, and retain the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, addressing the need for qualified information security analysts by preparing a diverse pool of highly qualified new cybersecurity workers. Upon completion of the program, apprentices are qualified as CISSP Associates, on the way to one of the most highly regarded cybersecurity certifications in the industry. The State of California is an important participating employer in this program; San Francisco Unified School District and San Francisco International Airport have also committed to offer a few apprentice slots.