A Renewed Commitment: Apprenticeships

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Vice President, Tooling U-SME on June 15, 2017

A Renewed Commitment: Apprenticeships

Citing a commitment to “supporting working families and creating a pathway for them to have robust and successful careers,” the White House declared this week to be Workforce Development Week, with the president making appearances to promote the elevation of apprenticeships as a central role in his labor policy.

We are pleased with this acknowledgement of America’s massive skills gap, and certainly agree that apprenticeships can play a central, critical role in addressing America’s current and growing need for skilled workers.

Studies show that talent-driven innovation, based on the quality and availability of workers (skilled labor, as well as researchers, scientists, and engineers) is the number one driver of manufacturing competitiveness. Even though America continues to have one of the most advanced and skilled workforces in the world, finding, hiring, and retaining employees with the right skills has proven to be a challenge. A Tooling U-SME survey found that more than 80 percent of companies acknowledge a gap in the skills held by potential employees and those needed, but less than 20 percent offer a structured manufacturing training program.

This has to change, and we embrace the idea of industry, education, and government working together to effect that change.

This administration, like the previous administration, acknowledges the scale of the challenge: approximately 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because people lack the skills needed by employers. The skilled worker shortfall is expected to grow to 2 million by 2025 – that’s if we don’t ramp up efforts to prepare the workforce!

The skills gap issue is a big challenge to confront, and proactive companies are looking for resources to tackle the issue. There are actually already measures companies can take, and resources to leverage, to drive their workforce training needs. As with the initiatives announced by the White House this week, a proven solution is to work with local and regional educators as well as national training providers to help assess the current competency level of their workforce and determine training needs.

Manufacturing has long been an on-the-job (OTJ) industry, relying on new employees to learn from more seasoned and experienced coworkers. However, in today’s advanced technology climate, a “watch-what-I-do” training program is no longer sufficient to build a stable, reliable and safe workforce. As a result, over the years, apprenticeships have fallen off our radar as a training option for employers and haven’t kept pace with the current demands of advanced manufacturing.

Educators and employers can tackle the technical knowledge challenge through competency-based learning models such as Tooling U-SME’s Apprenticeship Acceleration Framework.

Frameworks like these help manufacturers and educators identify the specific skills, experience and technical knowledge required to succeed in today’s advanced workplace environments. By defining specific knowledge and skill requirements that align with standard apprenticeship job functions, these frameworks allow the development of an industry-wide standard of program design, implementation and management.

A very current and successful example is one of Tooling U-SME’s partners, Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing in West Virginia, which was recently recognized by the Department of Labor with the ApprenticeshipUSA Leader designation. RCBI offers a variety of general and customized training courses and programs that range from a two-day blueprint reading class to a four-year apprenticeship program conducted onsite at a local manufacturer’s shop. Integrating online curriculum from Tooling U-SME is part of a blended learning approach that also includes OTJ training.

Another great example of an apprenticeship model in action is Northrop Grumman’s High School Involvement Partnership program, which gives high school seniors an opportunity to earn credit after participating in a hands-on job training program for 12 weeks. As part of their experience, students enroll in a pre-apprenticeship engineering program that includes Tooling U-SME’s customized technical curriculum focused on health and safety.

Our Tooling U-SME team is fortunate to work with hundreds of companies and educational institutions dedicated to providing America’s workforce with learning and development solutions that will equip them with the right skills needed to keep up to date with new technologies and equipment, which will in essence help close the skills gap.

High-performance organizations are 4.5 times more likely to grow existing apprenticeship programs — or start one. They’ll receive $1.47 in increased productivity and greater innovation for every dollar invested in an apprentice.

We are proud to be part of an industry that has been the driver of high-tech innovation — the same innovations and technologies that rely on a skilled workforce capable of operating and keeping pace with rapid change.

During Workforce Development Week, we celebrate, as we have for decades, the dedicated men and women who support manufacturing’s exciting revolution in new technologies, ideas and opportunities.

To learn more about apprenticeship programs, download a copy of our complimentary white paper, “Apprenticeships: Modernizing a Proven Workforce Development Strategy.”

Tags: apprenticeships, "Department of Labor", manufacturing, "Northrop Grumman", "on-the-job training", President, "Robert C. Byrd Institute", "skilled labor", "skills gap", Tooling, U-SME, "White House", "Workforce Development Week"