Utilizing Public Sector Apprenticeships to Improve Employment Outcomes

Dexter Horne 

Prior to his inauguration, President Joe Biden pledged to invest $50 billion in workforce training, including a substantial investment in the national Registered Apprenticeship Program that would “exponentially increase the number of apprenticeships in this country.” Concurrently, the House passed a bill in November — which has now received its second reading in the Senate — that would invest nearly $4 billion over five years in apprenticeship program expansion. These promises and actions at the federal level show that, in a country challenged by recession and high retirement rates, policymakers believe that apprenticeships are viable employment solutions.  

Apprenticeship programs are effective employment tools at the state level as well. The Council of State Governments (CSG), in partnership with the Urban Institute, held a webinar on the benefits of public sector apprenticeship programs for state government workforces. The webinar, “Utilizing Public Sector Apprenticeships to Improve Employment Outcomes,” featured state- and city-level case studies on apprenticeship program development and implementation. These case studies show how apprenticeships plug employment gaps across the country. 

CSG and the Urban Institute have also received funding from the 21st Century Foundation to develop a Public Sector Apprenticeship Consortium. The Consortium will consist of teams from multiple states who will come together to learn about public service apprenticeship best practices, discuss existing apprenticeship efforts in their states, and create action plans for developing public sector apprenticeship programs in their respective localities. The application for the Consortium will open in April of 2021. 

Key takeaways from the initial webinar include: 

Public sector apprenticeships fill state employment gaps—even during a pandemic. “We’ve not allowed COVID to dictate the fight to us…overall, we’re close to 3,000 placements in jobs just since March,” said Kevin Miller, Director of the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Agency. Ohio’s Vocational Rehabilitation program has successfully offered its services remotely during the COVID-19 health crisis. 

Policymakers can utilize public sector apprenticeships to build and nurture new talent in areas where the retirement rate is high. Officials in Boston, Massachusetts projected that by 2027, 35% of their public employees would be eligible for retirement.  “We know that we have to develop a talent pipeline [to fill those vacancies],” explained Trinh Nguyen, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. Boston’s apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship initiatives nurture the next generation of public servant talent. 

Public sector apprenticeships provide a crucial bridge between a government’s workforce needs and the pool of potential workers living in that region. “Even if these apprentices don’t stay on in the public sector, [apprenticeships] allow them to easily find private sector jobs,” explains Diana Elliot, a Principal Research Associate at Urban Institute. By acting as a model employer, governments provide under-employed residents the training needed to be competitive in the job market, while also filling their own talent shortages.  

Public sector apprenticeship programs should emphasize inclusion. Inclusive apprenticeships that provide skills training to people with disabilities have the added benefit of bringing unique talents, skills, and perspectives to the workforce. “The benefits of including more individuals with disabilities in the workforce are numerous,” said Dina Klimkina of CSG. Higher workforce morale, a more inclusive workforce culture, and improved operational performance and productivity, creativity, and profitability are among those benefits. 

Whether it is to fill employment gaps in state government, stimulate hiring during a crisis, or prepare under-utilized populations for competitive employment, public sector apprenticeships are important workforce development tools for state policymakers.  Learn more by checking out the full visual and audio recording of this webinar, which can be found on CSG’s 2020 National Conference Reimagined website.   

Note: This article was originally posted on February 4, 2021, and was updated on March 4, 2021.