Ideally, a business could hire someone right out of school or off the street to fill a job opening and get a new employee who has been properly trained for the position. Anyone who has tried to hire someone recently knows this is not the world in which we live. The need for skilled workers continues to grow, both in New Jersey and nationally, and that need has brought new life to an old idea – apprenticeships.
New Jersey’s skilled labor shortage is one of the biggest. We have more job openings per-capita than any other state in the nation except one. It’s not just a lack of college graduates; many businesses have jobs that require specific technical skills that still require post-secondary education, just not a full bachelor’s degree.
An apprenticeship could help fill this void. It’s an on-the-job training program that allows an employee to learn a craft or trade while being employed and paid by the company or organization sponsoring the training. Most trade unions have apprenticeships, but now the idea is expanding to other types of businesses that need employees in the middle skill level. An employer does not need government permission to start an apprenticeship program, but any job that requires certification or a license will likely need to be a registered apprenticeship.
Federally registered programs appear to be expanding. In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order increasing funding for the ApprenticeshipUSA grant program to $200 million and giving third parties, including businesses, more leeway to design training programs that will teach skills to those who are seeking jobs but do not have the right qualifications.
As of last year, 505,000 people held apprenticeships in the US, according to US Department of Labor (DOL) data. About half of all active apprentices are in construction, and another 35 percent are in manufacturing. Also according to DOL data, New Jersey businesses added 73 new apprenticeship programs, ninth highest in the country for FY 2016.
Apprenticeships have an advantage over the usual post-secondary education programs, especially when it comes to addressing the skills gap, because they can be highly specialized. College or technical schools prepare students for any number of careers and generally focus more on theory than practice. Because apprenticeships can be designed by the employers, the apprentice learns the exact skills he or she will need to perform the job.
And unlike unregistered apprenticeships, registered programs provide the apprentice with a nationally recognized credential.
Employers can also expect better outcomes because they are the ones who will design the training plans. Plans must provide at least 2,000 hours of formal, on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom-based related technical instruction, and include the Work Process Schedule outlining the content and/or competencies that the program will cover. Employers can also choose to have their own veteran employees conduct the training instead of an outside education provider, although outside instruction is required as well, either on site or in partnership with an education provider.
During this time, apprentices will work as full-time employees paid by the business.
Making sure New Jersey businesses have a reliable source of skilled labor is one of NJBIA’s top goals. While apprenticeships are not a quick and easy fix, a program easily available to many businesses can be an important part of ensuring New Jersey employers will have the workers they need in the future.