Embracing Apprenticeships: A Pathway to a Skilled and Diverse Workforce
Traditional education for manufacturing careers is undergoing a significant transformation. A recent report by Multiverse and the Burning Glass Institute sheds light on an underutilized yet potent tool in workforce development: apprenticeships.
While they’ve long been associated with entry into the manufacturing sector, new evidence suggests that apprenticeships might have the power to reshape the American workforce. As manufacturers face a growing dearth of talent, investment in apprenticeship programs could be a key answer — one benefiting an estimated 70% of active laborers.
The untapped potential of apprenticeships
The concept of apprenticeships isn’t new, but its adoption in the U.S. lags behind countries like the U.K. Reports suggest that embracing a robust apprenticeship system could create over 830,000 new opportunities annually, while leading to a staggering $285 billion in wage increases. These boons are particularly relevant as manufacturers navigate the post-pandemic economic landscape and face the challenges associated with growing shortages of skilled workers.
Where talent is concerned, apprenticeships offer a lifeline to four key groups that could quickly fill the void left by retirees and the lack of new entrants into skilled positions:
- High-churn, low-wage workers: Individuals in unstable jobs without bachelor’s degrees.
- Career starters: Young professionals stepping into the workforce for the first time.
- Underemployed college graduates: Degree holders who don’t fully utilize their skills.
- Midcareer workers: Those seeking advancement or a career pivot within the sector.
As industries like retail and transportation face the threat of automation, apprenticeships can be a gateway to more secure, high-demand roles in fields like IT, healthcare, and management. This shift not only safeguards jobs but also ensures that the workforce keeps pace with technological advancements.
Enhancing diversity through apprenticeships
One of the most significant benefits of apprenticeships is their potential to foster diversity. Aside from simply bringing more skilled workers into manufacturing, apprenticeships level the playing field for underrepresented groups seeking employment pathways — including women and people of color. Apprenticeships can provide these groups with the skills and opportunities to break into higher-paying, more stable positions.
The government’s role in promoting apprenticeships
While it’s imperative for manufacturers to kickstart apprenticeship programs, there’s no shortage of resources to help them. The Biden administration’s focus on expanding apprenticeships — particularly in manufacturing, cybersecurity, and clean energy — is a step in the right direction. By modernizing the apprenticeship system, the government plays a pivotal role in making these programs more accessible and aligned with current industry needs.
Yet while the benefits are clear, the path to widespread adoption of apprenticeships isn’t without obstacles. Some of the challenges manufacturers face in attracting candidates for these programs include:
- Overcoming the stigma that apprenticeships are less valuable than traditional degrees
- Ensuring that apprenticeship programs are closely aligned with industry needs
- Making these programs financially viable and accessible to all, regardless of background
- Dispelling the stigma of the manufacturing industry and dispelling common myths
Government programs have already taken aim at these challenges. It’s up to manufacturers to leverage apprenticeship programs, recognize their advantages, and offer clear career paths to prospective candidates.
Apprenticeships are making a comeback
Apprenticeships represent a bridge between the present workforce and the future’s demands. They offer a practical, inclusive, and forward-thinking approach to workforce development. As the industry embraces these programs, it’ll open doors to a more skilled, diverse, and resilient workforce, ready to meet the challenges of a changing world.