To address the opportunity gap affecting learners and the workforce, stakeholders should seek to develop quality apprenticeship programs nationwide. This quantitative study compares the Federal Office of Administration Apprenticeship model to the State Apprenticeship Agency model in recruiting and retaining diverse students into apprenticeships.
Overwhelmingly, white men participate in apprenticeships at a far higher rate than any other group. This suggests that intentional efforts must be made to promote apprenticeship opportunities to all students beginning in K–12, but the question district and state education and industry leaders are asking is, “How?”
Show me someone who looks like me.
One of the most significant barriers to success is simply lack of exposure. Children are influenced by their immediate networks. And, historically, when children learn about careers, they see men in police, fire, construction, manufacturing and automotive careers. Where as women assume roles as nurses, teachers, bakers and office administrators. To break down gender-based misconceptions of who should do what, educators apprentice need to show students people who look like them in various occupations.
Seek out a diverse group of guest speakers from industry. Invite women engineers and male nursing faculty to participate. Being intentional in recruitment is a strong first step. To improve representation among women and students of color in apprenticeship programs, educators and industry leaders nationwide must collaborate and share best practices.
Collaboration is key.
As in all things, when we work alone, we will never achieve as much success as when we share promising practices through intentional collaboration. It has been my personal experience as a career and technical educator and administrator for more than 20 years that when industry and educators are given the opportunity to combine their efforts to develop strategic solutions, significant problems are solved.
When state and district education and industry leaders come together to consider solutions for the opportunity gap, they should ask themselves the following questions:
- How are we providing students, as early as third grade, with opportunities to explore careers from all career clusters? What can we do better to showcase a diverse workforce?
- How do we encourage all students to explore careers based on their aptitudes, not their genders?
- What can we do to remove barriers in school and in the workplace?
- How do we create a supportive, nurturing environment that makes it possible for all students to learn and achieve success?
Further, education stakeholders contend with the public image of apprenticeships as less desirable than college. This often makes recruiting difficult. And many employers have discovered that they need to begin their recruitment in ninth grade. Starting early provides opportunities for students and their caregivers to learn more and dispel any fears.
Diverse students succeed in apprenticeship.
CVS Health has developed robust and effective recruitment processes. When connecting with preapprentices, they provide detailed career information from the onset and continue to provide targeted support in the form of mock interview opportunities. Further, all enrollment decisions are made jointly with staff and their educational partners. The results re-emphasize the power of collaboration. CVS Health boasts a workforce made up of 80% female employees. Nearly half (49%) are Black and 22% are Hispanic or Latinx employees.
In Wisconsin, Joshua Johnson, the state apprenticeship director, said that he and his team go out into the community to promote apprenticeship opportunities. He explained that by working with the city youth programs and hosting community events and inviting people who “look like them,” they can achieve success with their recruitment efforts.
In conclusion, persist.
Work must continue to increase funding and access to apprenticeships. When leaders collaborate to share knowledge gleaned from experience, we move a little closer to equity. Create awareness campaigns that begin early and spotlight a wide range of careers in critical industries. These efforts will result in the continued growth of new opportunities. And they will improve existing apprenticeship programs that seek to better serve diverse groups of learners.
Joy Rich, Ed.D., lives in middle Tennessee and has worked in career and technical education for over 20 years. She received her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of the Cumberlands. Rich began her career as a high school marketing teacher and has served as a CTE consultant for the Tennessee Department of Education and as the director of experiential learning for the Tennessee Board of Regents. Currently, she is the assistant vice president of workforce development at Motlow State Community College.