Apprenticeship's Bright Future in the Northeast

Last Friday's Apprenticeship Forward convening in New Jersey brought together a community committed to expanding quality apprenticeship.
Blog Post
By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
June 12, 2018

The momentum around strengthening and scaling apprenticeship programs is building - and for good reason. Apprenticeship is a proven earn-while-you-learn strategy that allows individuals to split their time learning on-the-job and in the classroom. Apprentices earn in-demand credentials and receive ongoing mentoring in addition to their wages, and for employers looking to fill critical skills gaps It’s a cost-effective strategy for creating a sustainable talent pipeline.

Last Friday, more than 150 apprenticeship leaders, including employers and industry associations, unions and labor-management partnerships, institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, workforce boards, and state and local policymakers gathered in New Jersey to discuss the past, present, and bright future of apprenticeship in the Northeast. The convening, co-sponsored by the Apprenticeship Forward Collaborative and the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, featured a keynote address from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who championed the economic and social return on investment to apprenticeship. The Governor provided additional details on his administration’s $10 million state investment in the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network, which aims to support innovation, partnerships, and connections to higher education for apprenticeship programs. As the former ambassador to Germany, Governor Murphy is well-versed in successful European apprenticeship models that are informing the state’s apprenticeship strategy moving forward.

Though New Jersey’s current apprenticeship participation rates are below the national average, the state has a rich history of union-based apprenticeships in the skilled trades and manufacturing. Yet New Jersey is currently a national leader in high-growth industries such as finance, technology, and pharmaceuticals. To keep the momentum going, the state needs effective - and equitable - education and training models to prepare local workers to thrive in these industries. And meeting workforce demand is especially critical right now, with the state creating more middle-skill jobs than well-prepared talent to fill them and simultaneously experiencing an outmigration of millennials and middle-skill workers. All these factors together make New Jersey, like many other states, ripe for apprenticeship expansion.

Providing a robust investment in a statewide apprenticeship strategy puts New Jersey in good company. States like Washington, Colorado, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have also made significant investments in apprenticeship to tackle workforce preparedness issues. While states and regions may vary in their approach, leaders across the country - like those in New Jersey - are investing in their states’ talent through apprenticeship and are poised to reap economic rewards.

But government cannot expand access to apprenticeship on its own. Incoming Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton explained why this global, Fortune 500 company is so committed to the apprenticeship model and has worked so hard to bring it to their US operations. For one, the company’s mechatronics apprenticeship ensures new talent has the right mix of skills to meet the changing demands of a high-tech workplace. In fact, the skills mechatronics apprentices gain are so valuable to Siemens that employees fresh out of the apprenticeship program earn a starting salary of around $55,000, just shy of the national household median.

The benefits to apprentices – and to Siemens – are so rich that the company is also determined to see apprenticeship opportunities reach folks from all walks of life. As Ms. Humpton put it, apprenticeships can’t prepare talent to meet workforce demand “if the talent pool is half full.” Women and minorities have historically been underrepresented in apprenticeship programs, and speakers from the podium and panel discussions on Friday emphasized the importance of centering apprenticeship on equity to diversify the talent pipeline and connect folks of all identities to the opportunities apprenticeship provides.

The afternoon panels featured business, nonprofit, and higher education leaders highlighting several innovative apprenticeship models on which to build. One such example is NPower’s information technology (IT)  apprenticeship program, which provides veterans and young adults with IT training resulting in the attainment of industry-recognized credentials, paid work experience, and mentorship opportunities. Such opportunities can kick-start - or jump-start - local folks’ careers, and a recurring theme at Friday’s convening was the imperative to ensure apprenticeship opportunities like these are accessible and inclusive.

Friday’s convening showed that in addition to the demonstrated economic returns of apprenticeship, part of the beauty of the model is the community of partners it takes to create and sustain quality pathways. From sector partnerships to college-employer partnerships to local workforce boards and more, apprenticeship thrives on shared expertise, resources, and goals. With such a diverse group of stakeholders coming together in the Northeast around the central purpose of expanding quality apprenticeship opportunities - and leadership at the state level committed to its success - apprenticeship surely has a sunny future in the Garden State and beyond. 

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