Addressing Your Employment Gap with an Apprenticeship Program

With increasingly complex manufacturing processes and an aging workforce nearing retirement, more manufacturers are turning to apprenticeship programs to find and develop skilled talent.

It’s a move that makes sense; the National Association of Manufacturers stated in late 2018 that there were nearly half a million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States at that time. But which jobs are suitable for apprenticeship? How do you get a program started? And how would you pay for it?

What exactly is an apprenticeship program?

It’s a term many of us have heard for years, but we’re often murky on the details. An apprenticeship is a registered and structured program in which a student learns the skills of his or her occupation through full-time, paid, on-the-job training with a journeyworker or mentor. The apprentice must also complete at least 144 hours of related instruction on their own. This coursework can be provided privately by the employer or in cooperation with school districts, local community colleges or technical schools.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, apprentice programs can last from one to six years, with work hour requirements ranging from 2,000 hours to as much as 12,000 hours. While federal law requires that participants must be at least 16 years old, most programs stipulate a minimum age of 18. Other prerequisites typically include a valid driver’s license, a high school diploma (or equivalency diploma) and the physical ability to perform the work.

A wide range of manufacturing-related jobs are suitable for apprenticeship programs. A few examples include:

  • welding
  • machine operation
  • screen printing
  • meat cutting
  • injection molding
  • epoxy floor coating
  • pattern making
  • electrical work
  • plumbing

How will an apprenticeship program help my company?

Apprenticeship programs tend to attract more qualified candidates because they offer paid training on the job, with competitive starting wages and guaranteed pay increases as the apprentice progresses. These salaries, along with the commitment to educating employees, also increase long-term company loyalty among employees.

Apprenticeships can also result in higher quality work and increased productivity at your company, because you’re able to train your employee from the ground up in your own facility. This means that you get to decide what your apprentices learn on the job, including organization-specific practices and proprietary knowledge. Your existing employees can also benefit from your program, as the framework for your apprenticeship instruction can be used to train other employees in your company.

Finally, there could be tax benefits on the horizon. Several states offer tax credits and other incentives to companies with registered apprenticeship programs. And in 2017, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress to give employers up to $5,000 in tax credits for the training of a qualified apprentice. While that bill has stalled for the time being, public sentiment is still strong for the encouragement of apprenticeship programs.

Won’t this cost my company a lot of money or create a lot of extra work for me?

While there are costs and paperwork related to starting an apprenticeship program, there are grants to help fund your program and assistance with its setup and administration. In March of 2019, for example, CareerSource North Central Florida received $350,000 in grants to help launch or expand pilot workforce programs for area residents.

Seeing the opportunity to provide quality alternatives to four-year degree careers, many states are taking note of apprenticeship programs and working to promote them. In June of 2018, Florida’s then-governor Rick Scott signed into law House Bill 7071: Workforce Education. This law created the Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program, which provides grants to authorized apprenticeship program sponsors. It also requires the Department of Education to assist school boards, Florida college boards of trustees, program sponsors and local workforce development boards in notifying students, parents and community members about apprenticeship opportunities.

How do I get started?

First, determine which job or jobs at your company would be best suited for apprenticeship. Your best bet is to select your most critical needs that can be filled with on-the-job training and lead to long careers for those choosing them.

Your next step is to contact your state apprenticeship agency (or the U.S. Department of Labor if your state doesn’t have one). In Florida, employers should contact the Apprenticeship Section of the Florida Department of Education. These organizations will help you decide on a program type and create a schedule for your instruction. Once you register to become a training provider, you can then apply for funding for your program.

It’s also a good idea to seek help from experienced consultants. A manufacturing CPA has the right industry knowledge to help you identify positions ripe for apprenticeship. And experienced HR consultants can guide you on the human resources front to make sure you’re offering a program that is attractive to applicants, complaint with labor laws and beneficial to your employees and your company.

Apprenticeship programs present a great opportunity for employees and companies alike to narrow the manufacturing employment gap. It can also mean a path to increased employee loyalty, better productivity, and an improved bottom line.

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