College-Sponsored Apprenticeships Are Filling The Manufacturing Workforce Pipeline

Posted By: Rebecca S. Lake, EdD, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development, Harper College on September 19, 2018

Rebecca S. Lake, EdD, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development, Harper College

Rebecca Lake, from Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, joins us to discuss the role of community colleges as sponsors of apprenticeship programs to help fill the manufacturing skills gap.

On Oct. 1, 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) increased access to apprenticeships by funding the American Apprenticeship Initiative (AAI) grant, which catalyzed industry partnerships, making it easier for relationships between manufacturers and apprentices to grow. As manufacturers were getting on board with the idea of a potential workforce that earns while it learns, they were also required, as registered apprenticeship sponsors, to develop program standards; write the curriculum; complete paperwork; hire, train and track the apprentices; and find an education partner for collaboration. It’s such a huge amount of work that usually only larger corporations have the capacity to implement such a program.

In 2017, after the White House increased awareness of apprenticeships by touting them as pathways for American workers to acquire good-paying jobs, community colleges and technical colleges became better understood as conduits to fill the skills gap in manufacturing and other careers. Today, community colleges have become even more viable due to a Presidential Executive Order, signed June 19, 2018, “encouraging the private sector and educational institutions to combat the skills crisis by investing in and increasing demand-driven education, training and re-training through apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities.”1

Harper College, recipient of a $2.5 million AAI grant in October 2015, recognized the burden of paperwork for manufacturers, seeing an opportunity to be a “connector” that would help companies understand the value and benefits of apprenticeship, as well as how to establish their talent pipelines with an apprenticeship program. To boost the efforts of the DOL, Harper College became one of the first community colleges in the country to become a DOL registered apprenticeship (RA) sponsor by completing the required DOL paperwork and helping to connect companies with a pool of potential apprentices.

Harper College now has eight registered apprenticeship programs:

  • Banking/Finance
  • CNC Precision Machining
  • Cyber Security
  • General Insurance
  • Graphic Arts Print Production
  • Industrial Maintenance Mechanic
  • Logistics/Supply Chain Management
  • Sales and Retail Management

All but one of the programs offer associate degrees in applied science (AAS). The Industrial Maintenance Mechanic and CNC Precision Machining programs are geared toward advanced manufacturing apprenticeships.

Harper College has become a collaborative partner with area businesses, supporting their efforts to close the skills gap. Working with individual companies to help develop their talent pipeline strategies, we tailor program competencies to their needs. Companies have helped us design the curriculum and competencies for every registered apprenticeship program approved by the DOL, making the content of our apprenticeship programs responsive to business needs.

With college-sponsored apprenticeships such as Harper’s, benefits accrue to:

Students: Companies pay students’ salaries, benefits and all costs incurred for their associate degrees. Graduating with Harper AAS degrees, zero education debt and two to three years of work experience, students are fully prepared with the targeted training and credentials for their chosen fields. Harper College is an accredited institution of higher education, making its AAS degree transferable to any college or university and allowing apprentices to continue working toward bachelor’s degrees if desired.

Companies: Businesses acquire highly trained, qualified, loyal employees who are aware of company culture and have a passion for their industry. They find that apprentices have reduced turnover rates and recruiting costs, as well as increased productivity and morale. Companies also acquire an outlet for seasoned retirees to become mentors for incoming apprentices, ensuring that their invaluable knowledge is passed on during the two- to three-year timeframe of an apprenticeship.

Community Colleges : Colleges can leverage existing associate degrees, certificates or specific courses to accommodate various numbers of manufacturing apprentices. Because the courses in our advanced manufacturing associate degree program are already being held, we can easily add apprentices to them. In essence, we aggregate one or two apprentices from many different companies into these courses.

Classrooms filled with students who are working at different companies in a variety of industries allow students to share and learn from each other’s real-world experiences through classroom discussion.

Since October 2015, Harper has served 97 individuals in its apprenticeship programs. These programs also strengthened partnerships within the business community, which boosted the economy, helped build families and provided support for new-leader development in the community. Overall, it’s been a win-win-win situation.

To learn more about how college-sponsored apprenticeships are impacting the manufacturing workforce, watch the webinar with Dr. Rebecca Lake and Tooling U-SME, Filling the Manufacturing Skills Gap with College-Sponsored Apprenticeships:


1. https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=813365 Sec8:iv



Tags: "AAS degree", apprenticeships, "Department of Labor registered apprenticeships", "Harper College", "President Executive Order", sponsorship, "zero debt"