At the close of 2018, the number of job openings in the U.S. reached a series high of 7.3 million according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). This includes approximately 428,000 manufacturing jobs and 382,000 construction jobs nationwide.
The good news is that there are jobs available to qualified workers. The bad news? There aren’t enough qualified workers to fill them.
According to the BLS, the college enrollment rate of recent high school graduates (totaling approximately 2.9 million in 2017) was 69.7 percent, leaving about 1 million graduates to pursue employment or fiddle their thumbs. The problem, however, is that many of these young people don’t have the necessary skills to meet the economy’s employment needs.
The result is a skills gap in America that leaves jobs unfilled.
What exactly is the skills gap? According to Bridging America’s Gap, a 501 (c)(3) Workforce Development Organization founded in 2018 to address the skills gap dilemma, it’s the difference between what employers need their employees to be able to do, and what those employees can actually do on their first day of work.
One way to solve this problem is to skill-up workers (without gifting them the burden of student debt) through apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeships are good for businesses and workers alike. They create a pipeline of workers with customized skills. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 91 percent of apprentices move on to employment after an apprenticeship. And, for each dollar that a business invests in an apprentice, it’s estimated that employers get back $1.47 in increased productivity, reduced waste, and greater innovation.
Apprenticeships also offer greater opportunities for workers, with the average starting salary for a worker coming out of an apprenticeship program at over $60,000.
Here’s what they look like and how businesses can model their own “pipelines” of skilled workers.

Creating Valuable Apprenticeships

The five components of apprenticeship programs include: business involvement, structured on-the-job training, related instruction, rewards for skill gains, and nationally-recognized credentialing. These components offer a guide for how to successfully implement programs.

Design the program to meet business needs.

Employers should be the foundation of apprenticeship programs. If employers are successful with the program, the program can grow to more effectively train additional workers.

Harness the power of mentors.

Skills and knowledge training should focus on the requirements necessary for an employee to be proficient at the job. Mentors can be particularly helpful at explaining why specific tasks are important, providing employees with a comprehensive understanding of a position’s role within the larger framework of the company and the industry.

Teach applicable technical and academic competencies.

Education partners such as community colleges and technical colleges that can deliver formal training at a school, online, or on-site are crucial to creating successful learning opportunities.

Reward for increased proficiency.

As apprentices grow their skills, give them opportunities to work at higher levels. Think about encouraging employee growth as creating an internal pipeline for more advanced workers.

Offer a portable credential.

In other words, give apprentices something to walk away with that indicates their skill.

Partners for Success

Successful apprenticeship programs require industry and academic partners, which take some of the burden off of the business and help programs to work more efficiently. The Department of Labor offers flexibility for how to successfully create apprenticeship programs, suggesting the following partnership models as examples:
Model 1: The business sponsors the program, provides on-the-job training, and delivers related instruction at the job site. A community college develops curriculum for related instruction. The workforce system recruits and screens apprentices.
Model 2: Multiple business partners sponsor the program and provide on-the-job training. A career and technical school delivers related instruction. A community-based organization provides support services to apprentices. The workforce system contributes training funds for related instruction.
Model 3: Multiple businesses provide on-the-job training. An industry association sponsors the program. A community college delivers related instruction. The workforce system contributes funds for on-the-job training. A K-12 Education institution runs a pre-apprenticeship program.
Model 4: The business provides on-the-job training. A labor organization sponsors the program. A career and technical school delivers related instruction. The workforce system recruits and trains apprentices and provides basic skills training.
Collaboration is the basis for successful apprenticeships. The best way to get started? Work with company leadership to identify the type of skilled workers that your company needs most and who potential community, academic, and workforce partners might be. Consider what each partner has to gain and start the conversation.