By Sean Slone
Despite some obstacles early on in the pandemic, apprenticeship programs appear to have a bright future with states exploring a variety of strategies to strengthen an important career pathway for all, including individuals with disabilities. While apprenticeships have traditionally been limited to industries like construction, manufacturing and transportation, that is starting to change with states and employers offering opportunities in fields like state government, health care, information technology, and cybersecurity.
That is one of the conclusions of a new report from The Council of State Governments and the State Exchange on Employment & Disability titled, “The Future of Apprenticeship: Inclusion, Expansion, and the Post-Pandemic World of Work.”
Nearly a year in the works, the report incorporates input from dozens of apprenticeship program officials and experts around the country, examples from 30 states, and a comprehensive list of suggested strategies across four categories for states to consider based on programs that already have seen success around the country. Those strategies seek to:
- Promote and sustain inclusivity in apprenticeships, particularly for individuals with disabilities;
- Ensure long-term sustainable growth in funding for apprenticeships;
- Expand apprenticeship opportunities; and
- Ensure the resilience of apprenticeship programs.
State officials can promote and sustain inclusivity by:
- Working across state agencies to ensure apprenticeship programs reflect the unique strengths and needs of individuals with disabilities
- Creating pre-apprenticeship opportunities to ensure those with disabilities have the necessary skills to participate in apprenticeships
- Creating tax incentives for businesses that hire apprentices with disabilities
- Requiring that apprenticeship expansion initiatives increase diversity and inclusion
- Working closely with community colleges to engage diverse populations
- Encouraging the collection of reliable disability inclusion data for these programs
- Ensuring digital platforms for instruction are accessible to individuals with disabilities
States can work to ensure sustainable funding by:
- Identifying champions for apprenticeships throughout state government
- Casting a wide net in the search for program funding
- Exploring “braided funding” (the weaving together of multiple funding streams)
State officials can contribute to the expansion of apprenticeship opportunities by:
- Creating competitive grant programs
- Encouraging the development of apprenticeships in fields that appear ripe for future expansion such as health care and advanced manufacturing as well as in areas likely to have cross-industry relevance such as information technology and business services
- Increasing support for the infrastructure to support apprenticeships in new and emerging fields
- Assisting efforts of employers, trade associations, and other groups to expand the scope of apprenticeships
- Assessing the public sector and civil service as another potential area for apprenticeship expansion.
States can work to ensure the resilience of apprenticeships by:
- Emulating work-based learning programs in other countries that demonstrated the benefits of longstanding programmatic flexibility during the pandemic
- Working to get pre-pandemic plans for apprenticeship expansion back on track
- Having state apprenticeship agency employees re-tasked back to their departments and making additional hires
- Encouraging the federal government to create a dedicated funding stream and formula funding for registered apprenticeships
- Seeking better coordination with federal partners and other stakeholders
The benefits of inclusive apprenticeships are numerous. For participants, apprenticeships offer the opportunity to gain hands-on career training and earn college credit or portable credentials. Employers benefit from the opportunity to train their future workforce with skills tailored to their needs. And states benefit from apprenticeship programs that increase the pipeline of qualified public and private sector employees and aid economic recovery.
For individuals with disabilities, the benefits of inclusive apprenticeships can be even more profound, allowing them to demonstrate their value to an employer and gain new skills that can set them on a promising career path. In fact, research shows young people with disabilities who participate in apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities experience stronger career outcomes.
One of the reasons for the significant optimism about the long-term future of apprenticeship programs is the resilience many of them demonstrated from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there were pauses in some programs as the pandemic shut down schools and many sectors of the economy in the spring of 2020, many were ultimately able to pivot to virtual programming. Some expect those format changes and flexibilities to continue. Apprenticeships may also need to continue to shift in new ways as the transformed post-pandemic hybrid workplace comes into clearer view.
Others cite reasons for optimism in the continuing bipartisan support for apprenticeship, the success of recent efforts to expand apprenticeship to new fields, the possibility of dedicated federal funding on the horizon, and the engagement of numerous partners and stakeholders in support of these programs.
Apprenticeships appear likely to continue to grow in the coming years, offering essential training opportunities to an increasingly diverse and inclusive group of participants across an expanding number of industries, such as health care, information technology, and cybersecurity.
The report, “The Future of Apprenticeship: Inclusion, Expansion, and the Post-Pandemic World of Work” is being released in conjunction with National Apprenticeship Week, held from November 15-21, 2021. CSG will host a webinar “A Pathway to Recovery: Utilizing Apprenticeships” on Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. ET that will highlight the report and other CSG policy efforts in support of apprenticeships. You can register for the free webinar here.