By: Dave Lavender | January 30, 2023
West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s most recent apprenticeship program at Blenko Glass | Photos courtesy of Dave Lavender
Read it now and believe it later but blink a couple of times and the daffodils will be up, the grass will need cutting and baseball and graduation seasons will be upon us.
In the U.S., high school graduates have often found themselves stuck in the rut of two divergent paths. Many are funneled into a four-year university – and four, five or six years later graduate but get saddled with an average of $38,000 in debt. And no guarantee of a job.
Or… their middle-class hopes and dreams get slowly chewed up in the grind of low-wage service jobs. Sure you can get fries with that – just not home ownership, or the ability to generate wealth.
Meanwhile, many U.S. companies are in a panic mode for new workforce – staring down the Silver Tsunami – endless waves of Baby Boomers retiring at such a clip that in 10 years more than 40 percent of today’s workforce will need to be replaced.
Fortunately, the time-tested “earn and learn” model of apprenticeship can provide a “win-win” solution to on-board young workers into a career with a living wage while simultaneously helping companies recruit, train and retain the next generation of tech-savvy and diverse workers.
Here’s a quick Q&A to discover more about what I call Apprenticeships 2.0 right here in West Virginia.
WHAT IS AN APPRENTICESHIP?
Every one of us learns better when we read something then put that fresh knowledge into play under the guidance of a mentor. In the words of master Yoda “Apprentice We Must.” Apprenticeship is at its core: a job that hires novices and puts them simultaneously through classroom or related training (which can be virtual and online) and puts that knowledge into action with on-the-job training under a mentor at the company. WV registers apprenticeships through the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship which helps companies put together their own unique blend of OJT and at least 144 hours of classroom instruction yearly to create the apprenticeship. At the end of a registered apprenticeship, an apprentice gets a transferable federal certificate declaring them competent in that occupation whether it is an electrician, computer programmer, truck driver or meatcutter.
WHO CAN APPRENTICE?
Nationally, the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship has registered more than 1,000 different occupations. Companies with active apprenticeships include: Amazon, Google, Intuit, Dow, Tesla, Ford, Nestle, Microsoft and on and on. These successful companies are active talent producers, not passive talent consumers. And increasingly you do not need a college degree to work for them. However, many apprenticeships can work hand in hand with a two-year community and technical college degree.
WHERE IS WV RANKED?
In West Virginia, we have more than 5,423 active apprentices. Per capita we’ve moved up from being ranked 8th in the nation per capita to 5th. Overall, regardless of population-size, WV still ranks 27th, is neck and neck with Colorado and well ahead of much, much larger states such as Arizona, Kentucky and Utah, according to the latest US DOL Office of Apprenticeship stats for 2022.
WHAT KIND OF APPRENTICESHIPS ARE AVAILABLE IN WV?
In just a couple years of doing Apprenticeship expansion work for the West Virginia Department of Economic Development in concert with the US DOL Office of Apprenticeship, we have helped build out and fund apprenticeships in Aerospace and IT, Brewing, Solar Panel Installers, Meatcutting, Glass Workers, Wind Turbine Techs, Home Health Aides, Construction, and many others. The WV Department of Education and the DOL have built out the second Grow Your Own teachers apprenticeship in the U.S., modeling it after Tennessee which was the first state to do so. Now about a dozen states are doing this to help with the teacher shortage.
Also in West Virginia, there are about two dozen groups, such as Coalfield Development, YouthBuild, West Virginia Women Work and many others, working with the DOL Office of Apprenticeship to put in their own unique model of apprenticeship, which can be union or non union.
WHY IS WV GREAT FOR APPRENTICESHIP?
Apprenticeships allow folks with no prior experience – and barriers to employment – to “earn while they learn.” Because of that diversity and inclusion for women and minorities is baked into the very fabric of apprenticeships. WV also has last-dollar-in free Community and Technical College tuition so marrying apprenticeships to free CTC is a winning cost-effective formula for a career pathway to a high-paying job. Many states like South Carolina are attaching an apprenticeship to every CTC two year degree guaranteeing their youth stay in state as they have a full time job in their field of study.
WHY IS APPRENTICESHIP SUCH A NATIONAL TREND?
The Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all agreed on and have doubled down on Apprenticeship funding for good reason – Apprenticeship works. Retention rates for someone who goes through an apprenticeship is above 90 percent. Apprenticeships have also grown exponentially in the U.S. because they’re flexible and play on the strengths of youth’s ability to obtain short certifications for job competency and for workers it’s a career pathway that bypasses college debt.
In 2022, there were 610,525 apprentices in the U.S. Apprenticeship numbers are up 98 percent in the U.S. since 2013. And there are now 30 million apprenticeable jobs in the United States paying $55,000 or more per year (without a bachelor’s degree) so the growth in Apprenticeships is expected to continue to skyrocket as companies like IBM now hire use apprenticeship as THE WAY to train almost all of their new hire employees.
HOW DO I FIND OUT APPRENTICESHIPS?
To explore more about modern-day apprenticeships go to the US DOL Office of Apprenticeship website at www.apprenticeship.gov and to help build and fund a program reach out to the Workforce Training team at the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. Go online at https://westvirginia.gov/incentives-and-programs/apprenticeship-in-motion/ or call
David Rogers: B.David.Rogers@wv.gov 304-352-3980
Jeffrey Huffman: Jeffrey.L.Huffman@wv.gov 304-352-3990
David Lavender: David.L.Lavender@wv.gov 304-352-3996
Nicholas Nunnery: firstname.lastname@example.org 304-546-6432
Dave Lavender is an Apprenticeship Coordinator with the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. Contact Dave at David.L.Lavender@wv.gov at 304-932-2045 and connect on social media. On LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/dave-lavender-1264511a1/