What you should know about Arkansas’ growing apprenticeship efforts

by Cody Waits ([email protected]) 504 views 

Under the leadership of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the number of apprentices in Arkansas has increased from roughly 3,200 apprentices in 2015 to over 6,300 in 2019.

Now, these aren’t all construction workers, electricians, and plumbers we’re talking about. Believe it or not, this number includes apprenticeships in IT, manufacturing, industrial maintenance, cyber security, data analytics, and more modern, “nontraditional” industries and occupations. Employers in Arkansas and across the nation are giving the time-tested model another chance, putting it to use in new ways every day. They are growing their own talent through apprenticeship programs and, take it from them, it’s really working.

On Tuesday, November 12, there will be an informational employer forum, Employers Growing Talent through Apprenticeship, from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro. This meeting is designed to inform and educate employers about a proven time tested workforce development model with modern talent development applications across a variety of industries.

The Division of Workforce Services and Office of Skills Development, both part of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, are partnering with the Northeast Arkansas Workforce Development Board and the local Chambers of Commerce to host the forum in honor of National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 11-17). The goal is to raise awareness around the value of apprenticeship and the resources available to assist companies in starting an apprenticeship program.

Speakers will include Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, business leaders and practitioners, state officials and more. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from expert panelists who are currently using apprenticeship programs to upskill the workforce. Industry decision-makers, HR professionals, and hiring managers who are interested in using apprenticeship as a workforce development solution are highly encouraged to attend.

Here’s why:

The “earn and learn” work-based training model stands the test of time. This fact is well-known within certain industry sectors like the construction trades. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that apprenticeships have evolved and are expanding to serve a broader audience of industries. With a network of more than 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations across the nation, apprenticeships are developing a new generation of workers to help our nation succeed in the 21st Century economy. It’s a classic solution to the modern skills gap.

Apprenticeships are a win-win-win, benefiting employers, workers, and the public good. Apprenticeship works because it is employer-driven. Across the economy, employers worry about their rapidly aging workforces. For businesses faced with the increasing likelihood that they won’t be able to rely solely on buying their talent, apprenticeships can be effective tools to build their talent instead. Individuals are trained to the employer’s specifications using a combination of classroom or online instruction and on-the-job training. This gives employees both theoretical and working knowledge of their occupation and industry.  Ultimately, the apprentice receives a marketable credential awarded through the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship.

In addition to providing a pipeline of workers with customized skills, apprenticeships reduce turnover, increase productivity, and improve the bottom line. Apprentices are loyal to the companies that invest in them. Moreover, a significant majority of apprenticeship sponsors report that apprenticeships actually raise productivity and worker morale across the board—not just among apprentices. This is because all workers benefit from a learning environment at work. This, of course, all feeds back to the bottom line. Employers looking at apprenticeships as a way to meet their workforce needs must be willing to think long-term and invest on the front end, knowing they are going to have the return on investment through the career of a successful and productive employee.

For apprentices, the “earn and learn” model means they get paid to earn credentials and/or college credits — without the need to incur college debt. From their first day of work, they receive a paycheck that is guaranteed to increase as their training progresses. Apprenticeship programs also ensure greater opportunity for advancement and future employability for participants.

Apprenticeships are not just for those new to the job market or industry; current employees seeking additional skills or promotion may also benefit from training. These programs help businesses provide ongoing training and development to dependable employees who need other skills. Many employers utilize apprenticeship programs as a means to upskill their employees and avert the loss of institutional knowledge through attrition.

Finally, apprenticeships benefit the public good. Communities that adopt apprenticeship programs enrich relationships between employers and educators, reduce unemployment, and attract and retain a well-trained workforce as a basis for economic growth.

The economy in Arkansas is strong and growing. As it grows, so does the number of unfilled positions. Look at it this way: we have the jobs for people on one side and the people for jobs on the other. There are federal, state, and local entities stepping up with resources and funding that can help build the bridge that connects the two. Apprenticeships are that bridge, but as mentioned above, apprenticeships work because they are employer-driven.

If you are interested in learning more about the ways apprenticeships can benefit your company, your workforce, and your community, we hope you will consider attending the Employers Growing Talent through Apprenticeship on November 12.

Please register to attend the forum at www.apprenticeship-employerforum.eventbrite.com.

Editor’s note: Cody Waits is the director of the Office of Skills Development at the Arkansas Department of Commerce. The opinions expressed are those of the author.