Earn and learn – debt free. Sound like a late-night infomercial? Think again.
With increases in median household income unable to keep pace with the rising cost of college, getting a debt-free education while earning a living wage sounds like a dream come true. But that concept is the cornerstone of registered apprenticeship programs.
Once thought of as strictly a venue for those interested in construction trades, registered apprenticeships, which must meet rigorous federal and state standards, have grown to include almost 1,400 approved occupations.
Opportunities range from wine making and craft brewery to transportation and information technology and everything in between. The benefits and opportunities of registered apprenticeship programs are being showcased through events held this week as a part of National Apprenticeship Week.
“It’s like getting a four-year degree, but without the debt,” said Greer Sisson, Iowa state director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship. “A high school diploma, and the skills it represents, is no longer enough to secure a living wage. But the rising cost of postsecondary education has become out of reach for many. Apprenticeship programs allow individuals to get started in their careers while working toward an industry credential, all without a lot of expense or the need to borrow student loans.”
Considered a win-win for both employers and workers, registered apprenticeships provide a means for individuals to upgrade their skills and keep pace with the demands of the 21st century while providing employers with the skilled workforce they need.
In order to incentivize growth in this “earn and learn” model, Governor Branstad signed the Iowa Apprenticeship and Job Training Act in 2014, which provides funding in the form of training grants to eligible apprenticeship program sponsors. In addition, new state legislation signed into law in May is redesigning Iowa’s secondary career and technical education (CTE) to ensure students gain the knowledge and skills to succeed in both college and careers. Part of that process involves more robust career planning, which includes apprenticeship opportunities.
Sisson said Iowa leads the nation in growth of registered apprenticeship programs. Currently, more than 8,200 active apprentices are enrolled in one of the state’s 750-plus registered programs. Over 100 new programs were added last year alone, many in targeted high-growth industry sectors such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, construction, financial services and insurance, health care, information technology and transportation.
One such program is the Application Developer Apprenticeship Program, launched last year by the Technology Association of Iowa (TAI).
“We surveyed our members and overwhelmingly heard that the biggest challenge to expansion was the need for talent,” said Tyler Wyngarden, director of talent development at TAI. “Overwhelmingly, our members stressed that they struggled to find enough qualified candidates to fill application developer positions. That is what prompted us to develop a registered apprenticeship program as a new way to get people immediately into these high-demand careers.”
TAI worked with the U.S. Department of Labor and Sisson’s team in Des Moines to develop program standards. Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and Kirkwood Community College provided invaluable assistance in curriculum development and aligning the training to specific skill sets required of the position.
“This program is creating new workers in the IT field,” Wyngarden said. “The cannibalization of employees is prevalent in the IT field. Rather than fight each other for the same candidates, the registered apprenticeship program enables employers to transition an existing employee into an IT role, or hire someone without a lot of IT experience and have him learn while on the job. We hope to add new programs to fill other high-need areas, such as network security.”
Registered apprenticeships require participants to complete both a set number of on-the-job training hours and related classroom instruction. Many organizations with in-house apprenticeship training contract with community colleges to provide certain portions of the instructional component of the apprenticeship.
That is the case with the registered apprenticeship through the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union #33 in Des Moines. The five-year program requires 10,000 hours of on-the-job training and an additional 1,200 hours of classroom instruction. By partnering with DMACC, the apprentices receive on-site instruction in 12 credit hours of college coursework in addition to the program-specific coursework. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, individuals leave with six professional licenses and an associate of general studies degree (AGS).
“We have apprentices with four-year degrees who couldn’t find jobs that paid a living wage to students who applied right out of high school,” said Eric Smith, training director for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union #33. “A first-year apprentice starts out making $14.40 an hour with full benefits, including a pension, with raises every six months after the first year. Upon completion, the rate for a journeyman (a skilled worker who has successfully completed an apprenticeship) is $32 an hour. Basically, our apprentices get training, professional licenses, a college degree, full benefits and a guaranteed job all for the cost of books, which runs $200 a year.”
Apprenticeship programs are also an approved form of postsecondary education through the Veterans Administration. The Iowa Department of Education is the state’s designated agency responsible for approving all GI Bill programs in Iowa for veterans and other eligible persons.
“We currently have well over 300 approved registered apprenticeship programs in the state for GI Bill purposes,” said Mike Dommer, veterans and military education consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “Those eligible for the GI Bill may enroll in approved registered apprenticeship programs in the state and receive their GI Bill benefits in addition to gaining skills and earning a salary from the employer. In Iowa, currently there are approximately 200 GI Bill recipients who are enrolled in one of these approved apprenticeship programs.”
Sisson and others have been working hard to break down the old stereotypes and to showcase registered apprenticeships as a viable means to closing the state’s skills gap. Smith, for example, regularly exhibits at local high school college and career fairs right along traditional colleges and universities. Other programs, like the culinary arts program at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC), combine a degree program with an on-the-job training journeyman program.
For their culinary arts program, EICC partnered with the Chefs de Cuisine Association of the Quad Cities to offer high school-aged youth the opportunity to learn culinary skills and earn credits toward an associate degree. Upon graduation from high school, students may continue in their apprenticeship track and complete their degrees. Apprentices then work at one of the chapter’s 65 approved apprenticeship sites, under the supervision of the executive chef, to complete a total of 6,000 hours on the job.
By the time students complete the 69.5 credit hour program, they graduate with associate degrees in culinary arts and reach sous chef status or second-in-command journeyman chefs. In 2012, the program was recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as a 21st Century Registered Apprenticeship Trailblazer and Innovator. This award was given to 50 programs out of all skilled trades in the United States.
“Our students come to class one day a week for theory and labs and the rest of the time they hone their skills in the field with executive chefs and journeyman chefs,” said Brad Scott, program facilitator and chef for EICC’s culinary arts program. “Our students learn from some of the best chefs in the field and they have the ability to make a living while going to school.”
Development of new programs is more likely now that Iowa was selected as one of 36 states to receive grant funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to grow registered apprenticeships programs in the state. The $1.8 million grant, the fifth highest in the nation, will help Iowa expand apprenticeships to diverse populations, focusing on women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that all 15 of Iowa’s community colleges are now members of the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC), a national network of postsecondary institutions, employers, unions, and associations working to create opportunities for apprentice graduates to earn college credit for their registered apprenticeship experience.
As new programs are developed, Sisson intends to continue breaking down barriers and to make more people aware of registered apprenticeships and the benefits they provide.
“Ultimately, the end goal of postsecondary education is to go into a career after you’ve completed the degree,” Sisson said. “We hope to show parents, students, veterans, and jobseekers that through registered apprenticeships, you get to start your career first, while earning a postsecondary credential. It takes the stress out of searching for ways to get real-world experience and finding a job after you graduate.”
What are Registered Apprenticeships?
Registered Apprenticeship programs are industry-approved programs sponsored by an employer or other organization and must meet parameters established under the National Apprenticeship Act.
The length of a program ranges from one to six years depending on the occupation. Apprentices start working from day one with incremental pay increases as they become more proficient on the job. For each year of the program, apprentices receive 2,000 hours of structured, on-the-job training and a recommended minimum of 144 hours of related classroom instruction. Upon finishing the training program, an apprentice earns a "Completion of Registered Apprenticeship" certificate, an industry-issued, nationally recognized credential that validates proficiency in an apprenticeable occupation.
National Apprenticeship Week events being held in Iowa and across the nation.
More information on Registered Apprenticeship opportunities in Iowa.