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Apprenticeship Works, When Done Right

As manufacturers face a significant and growing skills gap, we can no longer sit back and wait for students and workers to prepare themselves for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs. Instead, we must take a proactive role in building our future workforce, shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s adaptable and technology- savvy employees. But what is the vehicle for ensuring students and workers have the skills and experiences they need to succeed in a manufacturing career? How do we avoid one-off training programs that train workers in the short term, but fail to build a long-term talent pipeline? When done right, apprenticeship works. As a blended classroom and workplace learning—aka “work-and-learn”—model, an apprenticeship offers an effective and sustainable approach to developing talent.

For nearly two decades, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) has worked with employers across the manufacturing sector to develop apprenticeship programs for machining and metalworking occupations. While many programs have withstood the test of time, others have failed as a result of outdated methodologies and lack of employer/industry influence.

In 1995, I completed a Machinist apprenticeship. Looking back, I realize that the program missed the mark as a tool to recruit, train and retain a skilled workforce. It was an entirely time-based model that required apprentices to spend a certain amount of time acquiring skills, no matter if apprentices actually learned the skill before the allotted time. It was discouraging, but I persisted as I set my sights on a career in the industry. To this day, I think of all of my classmates who dropped out of the program because of stringent time requirements and a lack of mentorship.

At NIMS, we’ve worked with employers, education professionals and apprentices to identify what makes an apprenticeship high quality. When a program has these components, it delivers for the apprentice, the employer and the community:

Competency-Based Structure: apprentices learn and progress through the training by mastering and performing certain skills and competencies, in lieu of a rigid set of hours. This enables individuals to move through the training more efficiently and companies to focus on the training that’s needed for the individual and the job. Individuals advance at their own pace and employers are able to effectively monitor and measure progress and reward individual initiative.

Employer-and Apprentice-Driven: apprenticeships need to be designed by and for employers and students who are looking to optimize working and learning towards a career.

Standards-Based, Industry-Recognized Credentials: national, industry-recognized credentials ensure the consistency, quality and rigor of training, while allowing for flexibility and customization. NIMS develops credentials based on skill standards that are defined by industry, resulting in apprenticeship programs that meet labor-market demands and apprentices with validated and relevant skill sets.

Career Pathway Focus: apprenticeship programs provide the most value for apprentices and employers when they are structured as part of a education and career pathway, enabling work-and- learn options for students from high school through to their ultimate educational and career goals. Apprenticeships should therefore articulate into college credit, bridge to and from other work-and-learn programs like pre-apprenticeships, internships, work-studies, and ultimately lead to full-time employment.

Consistent Mentorship: workplace mentors are tantamount to an apprentice’s development and success. Mentorship should focus on imparting technical skills as well as employability skills—like teamwork and problem solving— that enable the apprentice to thrive in a professional environment.

With the Trump Administration calling for the expansion of apprenticeships economy wide, now is the time to look closely at the model and key in on what works and what does not. The National Network of Business and Industry Associations (National Network), of which NIMS is a member, just released a paper on the challenges with the current Registered Apprenticeship System, and offers solutions for fixing issues that are presenting significant barriers for companies—particularly small and mid-sized businesses—to adopt apprenticeships. If we want to bring apprenticeships out of the Dark Ages, we must re-think the current regulations enforced by both the Federal Office of Apprenticeship at the U.S. Department of Labor and State-level Office of Apprenticeships that are based on historical political and economic circumstances and are not relevant to the changing nature of learning and working.

We need to re-imagine a 21st-Century Competency- Based Apprenticeship that complements the new realities of the job market and the student/worker. Jobs are becoming increasingly more multi-disciplined and technology-driven, and employers in every sector face a shortage of talent. Meanwhile, students and workers are looking for alternative pathways to careers through lower-cost work-and-learn opportunities. Through a modern approach to apprenticeship, we can align these two phenomena and create more effective talent development strategies, a better-prepared workforce, more competitive companies, and stronger communities.

Montez King is the Executive Director of NIMS, developing national standards and competency- based credentials in manufacturing trades. Montez is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs, and strategic plan of the organization. Prior to joining NIMS, Montez served as Training and Technology Manager for Magna International, one of the world’s largest OEM automotive parts manufacturer. He launched his career at Teledyne Energy Systems as a Machinist Apprentice, where he earned his Maryland State Journeyperson Machinist certificate. Montez’s academic background includes a B.S. degree in Information Technology and M.ED degree in Adult Education from the University of Phoenix. In October 2017, Montez was appointed to the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion.


This article originally appeared in Industry Today