Apprenticeship article photo

Ensuring greater access to career pathways via registered apprenticeship

As unemployment pervades, paradoxically, job vacancies stand at a record high. And more people than ever are asking, “What’s next?” For some, the answer is apprenticeship.

People are considering alternative pathways to fulfilling careers.

Research by Gallup and Carnegie Corporation shows that some 46% of adults want their children to pursue alternative pathways into the workforce. In the business world, three in four human resources professionals support eliminating the four-year degree barrier for job candidates. But misconceptions remain — specifically regarding how alternative pathways function and how learners benefit.

Only 9% of parents in the Gallup/ Carnegie survey reported knowing a lot about apprenticeship. Many employers are similarly unaware of how this pathway works in practice.

Apprenticeship — the “earn while you learn” model — delivers significant value in the hands-on trades like construction and manufacturing. Further, it holds much promise in current and emerging tech fields like health care, robotics, green infrastructure and artificial intelligence. This helps employers to fill their most pressing needs with workers who possess relevant skills. And it also represents an exciting opportunity for those from historically underserved communities and for those who have been barred, by circumstance or by hiring bias, from the workforce.

Pathways like apprenticeship are vital to the health of our economy.

Career and technical education (CTE) professionals understand that real-time work experience is one of the most efficient ways to skill a person in the competencies that employers need. Some 92% of registered apprentices retain employment after the end of their program, and the average apprentice earns a starting salary of $70,000. This data renders apprenticeship both a highly effective recruitment and retention strategy.

Among its most promising attributes, though, is the apprenticeship’s ability to attract and retain people from underrepresented communities. In tech, the model may help to solve a sector-wide and longstanding bias against women, people of color, those with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Yet, as more learners consider alternative pathways, employers and providers must take care to not inadvertently perpetuate an all-too familiar phenomenon. That is to say,

If the talent pool now includes a greater volume of high-GPA, white, male students, will alternative pathway providers hire those candidates instead?

Anyone building and delivering apprenticeship programs must understand that apprenticeships are designed to be a great equalizer. More weight is given to the aptitude of a candidate than to their prior work experience or education. Apprenticeship breaks the “I can’t get a job because I don’t have experience, and I can’t get experience because I don’t have a job” paradox.

Some apprenticeship providers are doing it right. They’re designing programs that strive to operate in a manner that is free from bias. And with inclusion, access, equity and diversity baked into their very fabric and recruiting structure. For some, that means a mandate that at least 50% of apprentices will be from underrepresented backgrounds. Others raise the bar for diversity even higher.

“Design with diversity in mind,” explained Lateefah Durant, vice president of innovation at CityWorks DC — a major youth apprenticeship provider in the District of Columbia. “At CityWorks DC, we intentionally partner with local education agencies that serve students of color (80+%) and schools serving low-income communities.”

Meet learners’ learners’ needs to engage them in CTE.

When someone joins a new team (no matter how welcoming), feelings of overwhelm and isolation could quickly set in. The registered apprenticeship features built-in safety nets that promote the sustained success of diverse apprentices. Thoughtful features include structured mentorship as well as rigorous and ongoing training that leads to industry-recognized certifications.

For too long, only those with financial means could take time off to attend training or become certified. And only those with degrees or existing contacts in the tech sector could find employment. Even simple considerations like the cost of transportation serve as barriers to entry.

For many apprenticeship providers, a collaborative, community-based approach will be key to solving those challenges.

“There is a cost of working — transportation, work clothes, child/sibling/elder care, and so on,” Durant emphasized. “At CityWorks DC, we’ve collaborated with our school and employer partners to help solve these challenges.”

Forward-thinking apprenticeship providers like CityWorks DC create a welcoming environment for apprentices from diverse backgrounds. As evidenced by their diversity-first program design, they do more than provide apprenticeships. Their work aims to solve workforce-wide diversity shortcomings.

CityWorks DC helps young people gain access to fair pay, invaluable training and certification programs, and mentorship. CityWorks DC even gives apprentices the opportunity to earn debt-free college credit and nationally recognized certifications as they work.

Diverse apprenticeship programs support the future of the workforce for all.

The unfortunate reality is that under-diversity is often built into hiring and training mechanisms. If we’re honest, not only has hiring bias in tech perpetrated a systemic wrong that hurts diverse communities, but many of our greatest challenges have stemmed from our under-diversity.

As the business world faces a rise in the number of emerging threats, amplified by a widespread shift to digital work, organizations cannot afford to remain under-diverse. The proliferation of the registered apprenticeship, with built-in diversity mandates and deep support systems, will benefit underserved communities. And it will also benefit employers, who have so much to gain from welcoming new perspectives.

About CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech

CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech is a national initiative to increase the number of skilled technology workers and expand tech career opportunities for diverse populations, including women, individuals with disabilities and people of color. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, led by CompTIA — the nonprofit association for the IT industry and workforce — and Maher & Maher, a recognized leader in building innovative and successful apprenticeship initiatives.

Amy Kardel, J.D., is vice president of strategic workforce relations at CompTIA.

Read the full article in Techniques’ November/December 2021 print issue.