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Knoxville, TN (June, 2017) More jobs are available in this country than people to fill those jobs. This reality is driving a national conversation, highlighted this month by national Workforce Development Week. It is encouraging that we, as a nation, are looking intently at more options for training our future workforce. The numbers are certainly concerning - 6 million job openings nationally; many unfilled because employers can’t find a skilled workforce. Our current workforce is getting older, and the skills required today in the high tech and ever-changing world are simply missing. What a great time to be starting a career, because demand for skilled workers is extremely high!
Preceding Workforce Development Week was the annual rite of high school graduation. For thousands of recent high school graduates, the time has come to decide the next phase of their lives. Most have spent their high school years listening to the same advice that was given to many who came before them - go to college and get a degree. For many, this is a great option, but the college route is not for everyone
An apprenticeship is an alternative for those who choose to forgo college. An apprentice is a person who gets paid to learn a set of skills, by working alongside others who have mastered a skill set. In addition to good old on-the-job training (OJT), apprentices take specialized classes, paid for by the employer, focused on the job for which they are training. So an apprenticeship is also a great way to get an education. The apprenticeship model has been around for hundreds of years in areas such as building trades (construction, plumbing, electric, etc.) Today, apprenticeship options are available in healthcare, banking, agriculture and IT to name a few; and new options are being developed each year. A hidden value of this skills training approach is that it can be widely adapted to many different occupations and skill sets. For companies that struggle to fill key roles, the apprenticeship methodology can be a game changer.
For employers who embrace this training method, they see value because they get to train people in the exact skill set they need; and they get productive work from these trainees in the process. Another value is the ability to tailor the classroom training to the specifics of the job. Employers can work with local community colleges and other educators to customize the curriculum for their trainees. Unfortunately, many employers seem to struggle to see the values inherent in apprenticeships. No doubt they have business concerns that are legitimate. However, the very nature of the apprenticeship model is a strong tool to keep the future workforce stable and thriving. For example, the mentoring component, which is an integral part of apprenticeships, helps build relationships. The best places to work often are anchored by relationships that make people feel they are a part of something special. The training process also strengthens loyalty. Employees who feel valued and see employers investing in them tend to stay longer and contribute more.
That built in mentoring component is enormously valuable for other reasons. Employers tell us that after earning a college degree, many of the young people just starting to work simply do not know how to navigate the work environment. They have not had the on-the-job experiences of dealing with others, problem solving, facing deadlines, and so on. Because apprentices are at work every day, spending time with members of the team, they learn these soft skills alongside the more technical skills they are honing. Soft skills apply not only at work, but at home and in the community as well. Learning to work with others, how to communicate and resolve conflict is a valuable set of skills to have in all parts of our lives.
A friend and former colleague loves to say, “Jobs Matter!” Getting people to work in career paths that provide good career opportunities and family-sustaining wages solves a lot of social ills. Apprenticeships can certainly make a valuable contribution in these areas. Apprenticeships come with a paycheck at the very start. These programs help to build strong financial foundations for young families, providing stability early in their adult lives. This stability at home contributes to stability in our communities. Having more people at work impacts economic development, lower crime rates and more. What a great value for our neighborhoods.
When employers talk about workforce development the term Return On Investment always comes up. Families and communities also have an investment in workforce development. We should know what we are investing in, know all of the values and possible returns. Having a strong, stable workforce is vital to all of us. We should inform our young people about all of the options for career training, including degrees from our colleges and universities. We should also help them consider respected alternatives such as apprenticeships.
Before we can do this though, we must fully understand all of the value that the apprenticeship model has to offer. This special, long-proven method of workforce development is built on mentoring, can start careers with a great foundation of stability, and engages our developing workforce in solutions to long-term problems with which all of our communities struggle.
Workforce Development Specialist