SWAG Apprenticeship Model: A Collaborative Approach

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Vice President, Tooling U-SME on October 02, 2017

At WESTEC recently, I heard a lot about workforce challenges, especially about the widening gap between people and technology. Yes, retiring baby boomers and lack of a pipeline are concerns, but changing technology is becoming the number one driver of the skills gap.

One growing solution is apprenticeship programs. But, as we discussed on the Apprenticeship: A Collaborative Approach panel that I moderated, they look very different than 50 years ago.

As one panelist, Tracy DiFilippis, Sector Strategies Manager & Apprenticeship Coordinator, Goodwill Southern California, said: “This is modern-day, innovative apprenticeship, based on collaboration by community-based organizations, post-secondary educators, industry, and government.”

Tracy was also joined on the panel by Jeffrey Forrest, SWAG Co-founder and Vice-President of Economic and Workforce Development, College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., and Ken Wiseman, CEO, co-managing partner, AMS Fulfillment.

Together, this dynamic trio spoke passionately about the SWAG model, or Strong Workforce Apprenticeship Group. Started just two years ago to help drive the expansion of apprenticeship in the State of California, and throughout the country, the initiative now has 13 companies signed up. One of the companies, AMS Fulfillment, is running 18 apprenticeships. Participating companies range in size from 15 employees to 300.

Powered by Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy, an initiative of the California Community Colleges Chancellors Office, SWAG is one of the fastest growing apprenticeship programs in the State.

Tracy, who is co-founder of the apprenticeship program, explained that the model is data-driven. “SWAG uses labor market data to identify occupations with critical shortages in skilled employees,” she said. “This is a College Sponsored Apprenticeship program, which is critical to the employers who participate in it. Our relationship with employers, along with labor-market information, dictated the occupations chosen and the sponsorship role. We are committed to support skills training and development.”

This is important because advanced manufacturing jobs like CNC machinists, programmers and engineers are projected to grow over 50 percent in the next 10 years.

SWAG occupations are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, and apprentices who complete the program receive a national credential.

By establishing apprenticeship programs based on industry-wide standards, companies can more quickly build a pipeline of skilled workers, boost retention, reduce recruiting costs and improve productivity.

A huge advantage for companies is that, as a College Sponsored Apprenticeship program, the SWAG team handles the administrative heavy lifting – which we all know can be tedious!

“It’s an easy, turnkey way for companies to become familiar with apprenticeships while still driving the bus,” said Tracy. “SWAG supports what companies normally do. They just agree to the work process and to pay increases as apprenticeships gain in skills.”

As with any apprenticeships, the “earn-while-you-learn” programs are made up of on-the-job training (OJT) and Related Technical Instruction (RTI).

We are happy to say that Tooling U-SME provides RTI through its Apprenticeship Acceleration Framework, a competency-based approach to traditional apprenticeship models that follows guidelines set by the DOL.

Organizations and educators, like SWAG and College of the Canyons, can customize the framework to meet specific business needs and make a positive impact on business performance. The framework defines specific knowledge and skill requirements that align with common apprenticeship job functions. This level of detail allows apprentices to show competence in these roles through a more accelerated process.

“The Tooling U-SME framework allows apprentices to access high-quality, online content to support their learning — and it can be done anytime,” said Tracy. “That’s the beautiful thing — apprentices don’t have to be pulled from their production duties or into a classroom for instruction. It’s a flexible, adaptable online piece that can be incorporated into their schedule, and supported by an instructor from our college partner.”

The panel also touched on another topic that may surprise some manufacturers: funding.

“OJT training funds are available to employers who engage with apprenticeships, and most employers don’t know about it,” said Tracy, who added that employers who participate get a rebate, a percentage of wages back, for each apprentice.

Successful collaborations like this are helping to combat the talent shortage and train the next generation of manufacturers to adapt to new technologies. If you are in California, we encourage you to reach out to SWAG — and, if in another part of the country, reach out to us at Tooling U-SME, and we’ll let you know about programs in your local area.

Tags: "advanced manufacturing", "AMS Fulfillment", apprenticeship, "Apprenticeship Acceleration Framework", "College of the Canyons", "Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy", funding, "Goodwill Southern California", "Jeffrey Forrest", "Ken Wiseman", OJT, "on-the-job training", "Related Technical Instruction", RTI, "Strong Workforce Apprenticeship Group", SWAG, "Tooling U-SME", "Tracy DiFilippis", WESTEC, "workforce development"