Summit shows apprenticeships serious asset

There may be no better way for companies to find and develop the skilled workers needed to help them push forward than through apprenticeships.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is not embracing them with the zeal of other industrialized nations.

The recent Pennsylvania College of Technology Apprenticeship Summit brought together business experts, entrepreneurs and educators for an opportunity to seriously consider the training programs.

Robert Lerman, institute fellow with the Urban Institute, said apprenticeships give those looking to be hired with a company the chance to apply their learning to real-life work situations.

“It is a very effective model,” he said. “There is a strong incentive to perform well.”

The investments in apprenticeships, in many cases, result in paying for themselves.

He said the U.S. has for a long time relied more on academic skills and test scores to consider employees for their workplaces.

“We haven’t recognized the value of skills,” he said.

As a result, funding for apprenticeships represents a small fraction of that for academic programs.

Lerman called for incentivizing companies to create and market apprenticeships. He said programs need to be developed for credible occupational standards for apprenticeships.

“We need to think of apprenticeships as the road to a quality career,” he said.

The Trump Administration, he noted, went as far as creating a task force to rethink how apprenticeships are funded.

Jim Nemeth, human resources director, North American Operations for Autoneum, called for a type of national standard for apprenticeships. As it is, many companies establish their own standards for their programs.

Pennsylvania College of Technology President Davie Jane Gilmour said the school’s mechatronics program includes fire manufacturing apprenticeships with 13 companies.

She also noted the establishment of The Apprenticeship Center, a Penn College initiative that builds new apprenticeship programs to respond to business needs and leads to collaboration with state and local partners.

Most recently, the school received a $576,000 grant to support “capacity building” in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.

“On the apprenticeship side, this funding will allow us to offer related training instruction in our mechatronics and CNC (computer numerical control) registered programs at reduced to no cost for at least 40 apprentices from an estimated 14 companies over the next three years,” Gilmour said. “It will allow us to continue lowering barriers to entry for companies, especially small and mid-size manufacturers, and will enable employers across multiple industry sectors to participate in our innovative group model.”

In addition, the dollars will support the creation of a pre-apprenticeship program for expanding the pool of high school students entering high-demand occupation apprenticeships.

Gilmour said the benefits of apprenticeships are “tangible and proven.”

“U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that companies receive a return of a dollar and a half for every dollar spent on apprenticeship training,” she said. “Other studies have demonstrated that 92 percent of employees become more loyal to companies that invest in training them, resulting in lower turnover costs. Higher employee skill levels also have been proven to increase efficiency and reduce waste, further adding to an employer’s bottom line.”