Oft-overlooked apprenticeship model can help companies fill essential positions at all levels

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

For many, the idea of an apprenticeship program likely conjures images of entry-level construction workers, but in reality it is a flexible training and recruitment model that can be more effective than internships at cultivating a workforce pipeline for hard-to-fill and essential positions across industries and up and down the career ladder.

“Apprenticeship is a earn while you learn program model that is really designed as a saturated learning strategies that helps employers bring technical expertise into their organization from a variety of different spaces and allows a worker to create, what we call a family transforming career on-ramp into a new industry sector that they may not have had awareness of before,”​ Daniel Villao, deputy administrator for the Office of Apprenticeship at the US Department of Labor, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science Forum in Washington, DC.

He explained that while the apprenticeship model has been widely embraced by the construction industry, it can be used across industries, including in the food and beverage space, and at every level of career development.

“It is not just entry level kind of work that we are describing. There is also mid-career, senior advanced career and even professional level development that can happen through apprenticeship models,”​ Villao said.

For example, he noted one company with which the Department of Labor is working is using apprenticeships to help women move into senior c-suite level roles.

The Kroger Co. uses registered apprenticeship programs to help fill various roles across its organization from the top down as a way to ensure they can recruit and retain sufficient talent and that their managers are well educated and empowered, Erica Simmons, senior human resources leader for The Kroger Co., said at the GMA Science Forum.

Apprenticeships offer high return on investment

In several ways, apprenticeships also make better business sense – with stronger returns on investment – than internships.

“The Department of Commerce recently did an analysis that compares internships to apprenticeships and the internships strategy showed that one year post hire, you are experiencing somewhere between 30-35% retention, which is ok,”​ but not great, Villao said. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the 80-85% retention rates apprenticeship models have three years after hiring someone.

In addition, for every dollar employers invest in apprenticeships, they receive a $1.50 back in value. And for every $1 invested by the government in apprenticeships, there is a return of $28, Villao said.

“There is a reason why the federal government has an interest in ensuring that companies are beginning to recognize that apprenticeships move well beyond the construction industry … into these new sectors to help our country’s employers become globally competitive,”​ he said.

In this regard, he added, Congress for the first time recently invested $50 million to advance apprenticeships and the president signed an executive order to advance apprenticeships into new sectors.

“We like to kid that we all have gone through some sort of apprenticeship model, just some of us pay $80 grand or $100 grand for the advanced education, the related technical education, and then we go on the job and actually learn the work we are supposed to do,”​ Villao joked.

He added on a more serious note: “It is not necessary to get weighted down with all that debt when your business model really requires the ability for somebody to have the capacity to learn. And you as an employer can provide it to them through an earn while you learn strategy like apprenticeship.”

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