Apprenticeships and Workforce Development Programs Are Having a Moment

Benefits to students, employers, and industries do more than address the skills gap

Torsten Schimanski

September 22, 2021

The manufacturing skills gap has been a topic of discussion for several years. According to a 2021 Deloitte study, it is estimated that by 2030, there will be 2.1 million manufacturing jobs that will need to be filled. Finding employees who are trained, skilled workers is becoming more critical in a post-pandemic world, and meeting this demand is requiring manufacturers to begin thinking outside the box when it comes to future labor force planning.

As technology in the manufacturing industry continues to move forward, and career manufacturers begin to retire out, it is also becoming apparent that the skills required for success are growing more complex. Manufacturers that have participated in apprenticeship programs are taking control of the skills gap and labor deficit while also setting themselves up for success in the future.

Although newer to America, apprenticeships have been an integral part of the world’s economic landscape for years. In fact, a 2016 U.S. News and World Report article reported that America is beginning to look at the benefits of incorporating an apprenticeship system similar to that of Europe. With the average cost of a college degree rising to more than $35,000 a year for most students, and the guarantee of a job to support student loans upon graduation dropping, skilled-trade work and apprenticeships are becoming more appealing to those entering the workforce.

Why apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships offer benefits for both employers and students. For manufacturing companies, apprenticeship programs provide a way to address the impending skills gap while mitigating the current labor shortage. Employees who go through an apprenticeship program tend to be more loyal and are often able to adapt to change and perform tasks more quickly than those not hired from within the company. Ninety-one percent of apprentices stay at the job where they received training, and employers receive an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity for every dollar spent on apprenticeship. Additionally, companies that offer apprenticeships can train employees to operate within their facility’s culture and environment from the onset of the professional relationship.

Finally, apprenticeship programs can benefit the entire industry by changing misconceptions that manufacturing lacks career paths and employees work in dark, dirty, and dangerous facilities. Apprentices can see for themselves that manufacturing careers are often high-skill, high-tech, and pay more on average than jobs in other industries. Apprenticeships can be used in many fields, and with the rising cost of a traditional college education, it is likely that this path will become more normalized. Since the manufacturing industry is often considered less cutting-edge, being on the forefront of labor shortage solutions can help to turn the tide in terms of overall perception.

For some students, moving from full-time education to an immediate sustainable income and career path can be more appealing than incurring debt while preparing to join the workforce. Also, once a new employee joins a manufacturing firm, there are often tuition-reimbursement programs that can help them move forward with a traditional degree, should they choose that route. Bottom line: Apprenticeships are about creating options, not limiting them.

How to get involved

Although some apprenticeships still occur organically, for most small and medium-sized manufacturers, the process is a little different. Reach out to your local Manufacturing Extension Partership (MEP) center to discuss what an apprenticeship program could bring to your company. Working with a local MEP center ensures that both the company seeking apprentices and the apprentice are getting top-of-the-line quality in both performance and education.

Partnering with a local MEP will help organize a thriving apprenticeship program. The centers can help manufacturers analyze their labor and skill needs, and compare them with available training programs in their area. This analysis determines things such as the type of training program needed and the length of training time required for the apprentice. From there, the company can connect with a local educational facility (high school or college) to coordinate the apprenticeship and what certification the apprentice will receive when their training is completed. Once this is established and relationships are formed, qualified apprentices will be available to fill your job openings and fulfill your future growth goals.

Skills gap and labor market future

Because apprenticeships are not the first options presented to individuals preparing to enter the workforce, it will take success stories to change the narrative. Parents, teachers, and career counselors usually encourage a college degree because that was historically the best route for a financially successful future. Manufacturers can provide a viable alternative. By offering apprenticeships, manufacturers can bridge the skills gap and labor shortage, and change the perception of manufacturing as a compelling career path.

If you have been considering implementing an apprenticeship program, or if you have questions about whether this route could be beneficial to your manufacturing company, contact your local MEP center so you can get moving in the right direction.

About The Author

Torsten Schimanski’s picture

Torsten Schimanski

Torsten Schimanski is the director of workforce development and apprenticeship for the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP). In 2017 he received the prestigious Impact Award from the New Jersey Technology and Engineering Association (NJTEEA). Being a true advocate for dual-education paid-apprenticeship cncepts, Schimanski’s expertise is within the field of apprenticeship program development and implementation.





Great Article and Use of acronyms

Thanks for a great article. I would suggest this form before introducing the acronyms: Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (MEP). The link helped!

Good catch

Thanks Cliff. We fixed it.