Unlike the traditional internship, an apprenticeship is an employment model that lasts three to four years. Most of their time is initially spent training and learning while being paid as any other employee. But as their skills and expertise advance, an apprentice’s workload and compensation increases, ultimately leading to a full-time position.
But companies are hesitant to spend the significant money and time it takes to train an apprentice, according to John Ladd, an administrator at the Office of Apprenticeship and Training Administration for the U.S. Department of Labor. Many businesses rely on cheaper internships, onboarding and temporary-work placement programs to develop entry-level employees.
Just 400,000 people participated in a registered apprenticeship program at the start of the 2012 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That compares to the record 21.6 million students who enrolled in a traditional college in the same period.
Big companies may be able to glean from this traditional training model, however. While apprenticeships are thought to primarily benefit workers in low-skill trade jobs, experts say the training method has expanded to the information technology and health care fields — industries in high demand for top talent.
Unlike common training methods, apprenticeships combine academic education with on-the-job training, said Andrew Hanson, a research analyst for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The programs aim to teach both technical and soft skills such as communication, problem solving and teamwork, while the employee earns what is roughly equal to a year of coursework at a community college.
“The main thing that differentiates apprenticeships from internships is that they are highly structured and provide more on-the-job experience and practical, career-relevant learning than internships,” Hanson said. “Apprenticeships are run by many different kinds of firms and organizations, but the most successful ones are those that are highly structured and have a significant amount of employer engagement.”
Some big companies have taken notice. The American Health Information Management Association is starting to use the apprenticeship model as they prepare for the Affordable Care Act. Most of the law kicks into gear beginning in 2014, boosting the demand for high-skilled health care administrators and IT technicians, said Ladd.
In addition to training employees for in-demand jobs, apprenticeships are able to address the major skill gaps commonplace among entry-level employees and their first jobs, according to Ladd. He said when an employer hires an employee directly from high school or college, they assume the employee’s degree is a proxy for that person to have a certain skill level or ability. However in some cases, employers and employees face a skills disconnect, and the new hire is unable to meet the level of proficiency the employer initially expected.
After completing an apprenticeship program, the employer is likely to know the apprentice can do the job, because that person has been trained to meet the company’s standards. Employees who complete an apprenticeship program have higher retention and satisfaction rates, according to Ladd.
“Why would someone do an apprenticeship over programs like an internship? All of those programs are a lesser, lighter version of an apprenticeship,” Ladd said. “An apprenticeship is rigorous and it’s structured. There are specific things that you have to do as part of an apprenticeship program — but anyone could do an internship.”
Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.