Apprenticeships — Passé or Panacea? And why all the hype?

Posted By: Bruce Hamm on January 08, 2018

As the former Director of Business Engagement at MACNY The Manufacturers Association, Bruce Hamm created and developed a Central New York-based registered apprenticeship program in advanced manufacturing and acted as business intermediary with the companies and the NY Department of Labor. A partner with Tooling U-SME, he shares his insights about the current state of apprenticeships in America.

Bruce Hamm, Partner, Tooling U-SME

Bruce Hamm, Partner,
Tooling U-SME

Recent announcements about apprenticeships in America have ignited a flow of conversation with varying opinions. From “A moonshot goal of creating 5 million apprenticeships in the next five years.” (Marc Benioff, the CEO of to “It’s hard to imagine this apprenticeship push amounting to anything.” (Industry Week Bloomberg View October 2017).

What can really make a difference here? The answer, focus on those industries that have no precise career path, then reinvigorate classic registered apprenticeship, and apply it to modern day occupations, encouraging the best and brightest to consider rewarding careers in these vital new jobs.

The “silver tsunami” as it’s been called, is impacting every industry at every level. With 56 being the average age of a skilled worker, companies are scrambling to backfill retirements — immediately. Quality workforce education and training just doesn’t happen overnight. Suddenly, apprenticeships are appearing on the scene for everything from white-collar to pink-collar to blue collar occupations.

But health-care students already have established career ladders with HC, CAN, LPN and RN licensing requirements. And IT workers have a career path through certifications with Cisco, C++, Microsoft and COBOL, with milestones at each level. That’s doesn’t mean that the positive benefits of apprenticeship can’t benefit these sectors, but they have frameworks in place that manufacturers do not. So, for manufacturers, the logical (and time-tested) answer is apprenticeship.1 Apprenticeship can provide the structured training outline and career pathway toward any highly skilled manufacturing job.

Nevertheless, in the United States hands-on labor still has a stigma that does not seem to exist in other countries. Europeans, for example, are accustomed to the work-study model of apprenticeships. In America, we sometimes think that apprenticeships in manufacturing are geared toward the students who are not academically successful. It’s time to change the perception that manufacturing careers are only for those who are not college-bound.

We need dedicated and intelligent students to take notice of what has become a high-tech career with excellent pay — one that requires significant education to succeed, just like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Would you trust a doctor that came out of a short-term training program to handle your surgery? Would you have confidence in an attorney to protect your interests without years of training and experience? The answer is NO! Why then would you expect a young student to be proficient with multimillion dollar machines, computers, robotics or electronics without ample education, training and hands-on experience?

If you explore the history of apprenticeships, they date back to the middle ages and the guilds where it was an honor and a privilege to train in the “master crafts.” Skills in advanced manufacturing are the quintessential master craft. The new apprenticeships offer exceptional challenges, training and salaries for new high-tech careers. The inevitable exodus of current workers in the manufacturing industry is only half the story. Yes, we need their knowledge and skill sets, but we also need a new breed of apprentice that is hungry to master the latest technologies and innovations occurring in advanced manufacturing. When a highly complex machine breaks down, who will have the knowledge to fix it?

Manufacturing positions today are even more intricate than before, with requirements to install, operate and troubleshoot all the new, complex technologies. With the access to online workforce education and skills guides, like those from Tooling U-SME, job-hunters of any age no longer have barriers to employment. Instead, it the “stigma” that is stifling modern-day apprenticeship.

Today, the United States has nearly 12.5 million manufacturing workers, accounting for 8.5 percent of the workforce. Over the next decade, it is projected that nearly 3½ million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.2

Consider these two real-life examples:

  • Monroe Community College, Rochester, N.Y. — An analysis conducted by the college indicated there would be 360 manufacturing openings in Rochester in the next few years, yet only 120 graduates available to fill those jobs — this in a city of just over 200,000 people.3 Take that number and multiply it times all the other small to mid-size towns in this country, and you begin to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
  • International semiconductor fab, near Albany, N.Y. — Despite offering an average salary of approximately $92,000 per year, cannot find enough workers within the greater capital district area, so must recruit both nationally and internationally for a skilled workforce.

These are not isolated examples. The good news is that people are talking about apprenticeships. Manufacturing Day, Apprenticeship Week and even STEM initiatives are making news and building awareness of the rewarding and lucrative careers to be found in manufacturing. The industry is starting to feel the effects of losing its skilled workers, and concern for tomorrow is rising. By illuminating the problem, we find the key to understanding it. It’s not reinventing the wheel, its understanding what’s right in front of us and building upon our strong and proud heritage in apprenticeships. It’s time to reengage and reinvest in our future.

To learn more about starting an apprenticeship program, download Tooling U-SME’s free white paper Apprenticeships: Modernizing a Proven Workforce Development Strategy.

1. In 1937, Congress passed the National Apprenticeship Act (29 U.S.C. 50), also known as the Fitzgerald Act.

2. Deloitte Consulting LLP - 2015 Skills Gap Report


Tags: Apprenticeships, "complex technologies", frameworks, "high-tech career", "silver tsunami"