A New Career Stepping Stone? More ‘Apprenticeships’ Coming to Companies Near You

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apprenticeships blogApprenticeships—formal programs that consist of on-the-job, paid training, mentorship and related classroom education—may be the solution to the pressing skills gap between employers’ needs and job seekers’ training.

Yet despite the obvious benefits, the number of these programs dropped 40% between 2003 and 2013, according to the U.S. Labor Department. So what gives?

One reason could be that apprenticeships are linked with unions and a blue-collar image: Two-thirds of programs in the U.S. are in construction industry (though programs are now offered in other professions, like certified nursing assistants and IT administrators).

To encourage more apprenticeships, President Obama announced earlier this month the availability of $100 million in grants devoted to apprenticeship programs in high-growth industries.

“Apprenticeships are a way to link more Americans to jobs in some of our in-demand fields, like IT and health care. They let you earn while you learn,” Obama said at a community college in Pennsylvania.

South Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan are a few states that have taken advantage of more innovative apprenticeship programs. As an added benefit to employers, some states offer tax credits for each apprentice on payroll.

While companies might fear apprentices will leave for higher-paying jobs at the program’s conclusion, advocates have found apprenticeships in fact help with retention rates. The programs are an investment in the employee, which is often reciprocated with loyalty to the company. Some employers also avoid this problem with non-compete agreements upfront.

But another discouragement to apprenticeships is the idea that young people should stay in school rather than pursue a “tracked” program. On the other hand, supporters of the programs say these opportunities offer more intensive hands-on experience than college degrees or internships do.

Business owners skeptical of the programs can look to South Carolina’s encouraging results, where the number of companies offering apprenticeships has increased to 647 from just 90 in 2007.