The word apprenticeship is showing up everywhere and everyone seems to be talking about it; but what is it, what does it mean and why is important?
To be honest, the problem is that most people don’t know the answers to these questions, and to make matters worse, parents and students certainly don’t know. The ever-growing skills gap, paired with our inability to attract enough new people into the construction industry, shows it is high time we emphasize the benefits of this work and learn model that our industry has been implementing for decades.
In fact, most people don’t know that the construction industry is the largest user of the apprenticeship system in the U.S., representing approximately 30 percent of all active registered apprentices. This number rises to over 35 percent when the military apprenticeships are deducted.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word apprenticeship means “an arrangement in which someone learns an art, trade or job under another.” Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well then you probably have not had the opportunity to look into the American apprenticeship system. The complexity of this system has done nothing to encourage young people to enter into these established programs but instead has done everything to discourage people from getting involved.
The model of apprenticeship is a solid one that has been in existence in America for over 100 years. It offers individuals a way to receive training while working and have that training paid for by their employer. It is essentially the best of both worlds — earn as you learn. The ultimate benefit is that the individuals in these types of programs gain competence and a credential at the end of the training that represents their knowledge and skills.
Typically, an apprenticeship lasts for one to four years, although some may last up to six. An apprentice starts out making a percentage of journeyman wage based on a predetermined, agreed upon pay scale that increases as the apprentice progresses through training.
Apprenticeships can be time-based measured by the hours spent in the classroom and on the job; competency-based measured by the ability to demonstrate application of relevant knowledge and skills; or a hybrid which is measured on a combination of both time and competency. Some employers partner with associations, career schools, community colleges or other education providers to make this type of program available to employees while others have internal programs. Many times, these types of partnerships lead to the opportunity for the apprentices to receive multiple credentials or college credits simultaneously.
With so many benefits for the employees, it may seem one-sided. However, employers get well-trained employees who have committed to a program that is focused on knowledge and skills in a specific area; a well-developed career path that can be used for recruitment and retention; and a financial return that the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship averages to be around $1.40 for every dollar spent.
Along with all of these advantages, many people are not aware of the numerous career fields that offer apprenticeships or the fact it is these same careers that are in most demand globally. The 2018 ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey reports that 45 percent of global employers report talent shortages; this is the highest shortage since 2006. To further emphasize the need for careers that use apprenticeship training, it is the sixth consecutive year that skilled trades’ positions are the hardest to fill.
Now for the Rest of the Story
At one time apprenticeship was the predominant source of skilled training in the U.S., but here’s the downside, the number of registered apprentices has not significantly changed in 30 years.
This is due to the increase in cost and start up time, complexity, bureaucracy and burdensome compliance for employers. In addition, the confusing differences in state apprenticeship programs; the disconnect with high school programs; and the lack of general knowledge on how to enter the system have contributed to the stagnation of a model that would otherwise be providing skilled professionals to those industries in most need.
Instead, we see an increase in college debt with graduates who do not have the skills needed to find jobs. In fact, according to U.S. student loan debt statistics, Americans owe over $1.45 trillion in student loan debt, and the average 2016 college graduate has $37,172 in student loans, up six percent from the previous year. Couple this with only 33 percent of jobs require a four-year degree and we have a recipe for disaster.
To make matters worse, young people are still being pushed to get a four-year degree whether there is a need in the workforce or not. In 2018, the Registered Apprenticeship system boasted more than 545,000 active registered apprentices but almost 100,000 of these were in the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program.
When we compare this to the number of students registered in college programs across the U.S., it is not even a drop in the bucket. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19.9 million students were expected to attend colleges in the U.S. in the fall of 2018. When you couple this with the debt mentioned previously and the lack of work experience and skill these students leave college with, there is no doubt that apprenticeship-style training is undervalued and misunderstood.
The Other Side of the Coin
In construction, there are daily untold success stories of individuals who have gone through craft training programs that have led them down a debt-free career path at a very young age.
Take Robert for instance, a combination welder at Turner Industries and a structural welding instructor at the Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Bayou Chapter. He began taking welding classes in 11th grade at his local high school and the September after graduating, he was hired by Turner as a helper. At just 19 years old, he was a homeowner and working his way up at Turner.
Or, Joey, the young man highlighted at NCCER’s 2015 Construction Career Pathways event who was dropped off at the Big Oak Boys Ranch in Gadsden, Alabama, when he was six years old. Despite his childhood adversity, he knew early on that he wanted to learn a craft that would lead to a construction career. He attended Etowah County Career Technical Center, enrolled at BE&K School of Industrial Construction during his junior year of high school and received NCCER training for Welding Levels 1, 2 and 3. Joey talked about making $90,000 in three months on shut downs and spending the rest of the year enjoying his family.
Then there is the young safety professional, Mike, who jokes that he and his wife talk about how she went to college for four years and is still trying to pay off her college debt while he is debt free and making $20,000 more per year.
To Register or Not to Register
Actually, this is really not the important point of these programs. Essentially the only difference between registered programs and most nonregistered programs is the registration process and regulations. All of the trainee/employee benefits of both models are basically the same. Nonregistered programs follow the apprenticeship model by meeting both the classroom hour and competency requirements set by the Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship. The only real difference is the decision on the part of the employer or organization not to go through the registration process and be included in the data.
Does this mean the apprentice will not get a credential or receive less training? No.
Does this mean the apprentice will not be able to earn while he/she learns? No.
The question that may come to mind is why wouldn’t an employer or organization register their program? The answer may simply be the extra hoops that they would have to go through are not worth it, even though the programs they already have in place are essentially the same. There are 23 specific program requirements in addition to the apprenticeship-specific equal employment opportunity regulations that must be met and maintained to participate as a registered program.
What Role Does NCCER Play?
Though NCCER’s resources are used in numerous registered apprenticeship programs nationwide, many owners, contractors, trade associations, secondary and post-secondary schools, and government entities leverage these same resources under our more popular accredited, non-registered apprenticeship-style model to develop talent.
An NCCER accredited craft training program is an apprenticeship equivalent without the bureaucratic regulatory and administrative burdens, approvals and oversight. Due to regulatory requirements, many organizations operate craft training programs alongside formal apprenticeship training. NCCER accredited craft training programs have identical classroom instruction hours and length requirements to their apprenticeship program counterparts.
In fact, the NCCER curricula have been competency-based from the beginning and are developed to meet the Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship requirements of 144 classroom hours annually. In some states and programs, registered apprentices and craft trainees can be (and sometimes are) in the same classes at the same times, although there are some state laws that prohibit mixing types of students. Many organizations operate craft training programs instead of formal apprenticeship training because they perform little or no public work governed by Davis-Bacon.
Whether registered or nonregistered, NCCER programs are being utilized by some of America’s leading construction industry contractors and trade associations who recognize the critically important need to have a safe, productive and sustainable workforce of craft professionals.
Leading Apprenticeship Programs
Cianbro Companies — Cianbro is based in Maine and is a construction and construction services company that manages and self-performs civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, fabrication and coating. Cianbro provides both registered and nonregistered training programs and offers one to five year programs depending on the craft. The majority of Cianbros’ programs are paid training, in which team members are paid their normal wages and per diems for the time spent in class. Most apprentices will spend three weeks a year attending school.
Cianbro connects with other educational institutions as well by offering tuition reimbursement to team members. Many post-secondary schools in Maine will grant 24-30 credit hours of college credit to Cianbro team members who have completed an apprenticeship program. Cianbro’s craft training and apprenticeship programs are supplemented by recruiting career and technical education students out of secondary and post-secondary programs.
Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc. — Griffin Electric’s headquarters is located in Holliston, Massachusetts, and features a 17,500-square feet training space. Their Apprenticeship Training Program is a federally recognized and state approved 600-hour related instruction program consisting of four levels of training, encompassing all aspects of electrical theory and applications. This apprenticeship program has been in place in New England for 25 years, is fully accredited by NCCER and is designated as an approved training site by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Griffin Electric annually trains an average of over 300 apprentices within the four levels. The apprenticeship training program is approved and registered in the following regions where they serve: Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. On the job, each apprentice earns competitive wages and benefits while being paired with an experienced journeyman who is responsible for helping develop the apprentice through practical field experience. The success of their students, evidenced by achieving their state electrical journey-level license (most often on the first attempt), validates the quality and strength of the classroom instruction and on-the-job learning offered.
Fluor — Fluor is a Fortune 500 company based in Texas that delivers engineering, procurement, fabrication, construction (EPFC) and maintenance solutions to the government and private sector. Fluor recently opened its U.S. Gulf Coast Craft Training Center with the key objective to make a long-term investment in the industry by helping to build and strengthen the pipeline of skilled craft professionals in one of the country’s most active industrial regions — the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Fluor’s training center offers tuition-free, pre-employment training in various disciplines with no obligation to work for Fluor upon completion. The 12-week, NCCER Accredited Training program combines classroom education with hands-on training led by experienced craft professionals. With the program committed to providing a comprehensive approach to training and development, graduates are seen as “preferred recruits” by Fluor’s craft recruiters, as well as recruiters for other companies. In addition to hands-on, technical training, Fluor also provides more than 40 hours of instructor-led training in employability skills development to help foster healthy attitudes in relation to construction careers.
TIC -The Industrial Company — TIC was founded in 1974 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and is a direct-hire general industrial construction company. TIC offers all expenses paid training in three-week blocks to all active employees. Trainees are nominated by their jobsite managers to enter the program as laborers or helpers. TIC uses a three-week academy model to complete each NCCER Level which contains 150 hours of instructor-led training with about half in the classroom and half in the labs or yard.
The company pays to fly each attendee from their current jobsite to the training center and pays the attendees full wages, subsistence, and all room and board while attending training. They then return to their jobsite to use their newly acquired skills for the rest of the year. Each subsequent year the trainees are flown back to Colorado.
Employees who attend TIC’s Craft Training are not obligated to stay with TIC or to repay TIC training costs in any way. TIC has trained thousands of men and women over the years who are making the entire industry safer and more productive.
Turner Industries Group — Turner is located in Louisiana and has four divisions: Construction; Maintenance and Turnarounds; Fabrication; and Equipment and Specialty Services. They build, maintain and service the heavy industrial sector. Turner has developed and defined clear career paths for each of its crafts, which enable its craft professionals to identify career progression opportunities.
Turner provides career paths that are broken into four tiers. The first tier consists of new high school graduates, entry-level workers and helpers. First tier employees looking to advance to the second tier must complete NCCER training and receive credentials. After becoming NCCER Certified Plus, employees advance to the second tier, which includes journeymen and craft leaders. Successful second tier employees can advance to the third tier, also known as a multi-tier, which includes project managers, supervisors, safety advisers, and quality assurance and quality control employees. Finally, employees can advance into Turner’s fourth tier, which consists of executives and upper-level management.
In addition, Turner offers all students at its partner schools fully-funded scholarships to attend evening training classes at ABC Pelican Chapter. Currently, Turner has relationships with over 20 high schools and technical colleges in Louisiana and Texas and continues to expand.
Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Inc. — ABC’s Pelican Chapter represents the Baton Rouge and Lake Charles areas of Louisiana, which grew from the initial Louisiana ABC chapter headquartered in New Orleans. Accredited as a journey-level NCCER Training Sponsor in 1997, ABC Pelican Chapter is responsible for the training of over 2,000 students per year.
Each student who successfully completes the training program receives NCCER industry-recognized credentials. ABC Pelican Chapter offers both apprenticeship-style craft training and registered apprenticeship craft training. In the registered apprenticeship program students are sponsored by contractors to attend training; however, students are not required to be employed in industry during training. To accommodate work schedules, training is traditionally conducted in the evening.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While the American apprenticeship system remains complicated, the construction industry has shown the success of both registered and nonregistered apprenticeship programs. Even without the government stamp of approval for a registered program, a work and learn, apprenticeship-style training model is already a large part of the construction industry. Additionally, apprenticeship-style training offers what the 2017 FMI Industry Survey indicates are the most popular strategies for retaining high-potential employees in construction: challenging job assignments, competitive salaries, training opportunities and ongoing performance feedback.
With the word apprenticeship garnering national attention by politicians and spokespeople across the nation, the construction industry needs to seize the day and promote the type of training we have been doing all along. We have been so busy trying to figure out what the younger generation is looking for or what the secret sauce is for recruitment, that we may have overlooked the easiest and most efficient way of all — just promote the way we train. Whether it is registered or nonregistered programs, the structure is the same. We are the earn as you learn industry — Carpe Diem.
This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2017 Cornerstone magazine and the full version can be read here.