Apprenticeships: The other four-year degree!

By Naheed Huq
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that apprenticeships seem to be the Next Big Thing?

Some may say that there is nothing new about apprenticeships. They have been around for many decades. So why are we hearing so much about them now? Well for a start, this week (November 14-20) is the second annual National Apprenticeship Week, as designated by the US. Department of Labor. Michigan businesses, governments, education, and labor organizations are celebrating big time! The Partnership for Diversity and Opportunity in Transportation (PDOT) is serving as a clearinghouse for events in Southeast Michigan and is promoting those that help raise awareness of skilled-trade careers as well as apprenticeship training and employment programs.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is an opportunity to earn as you learn. Registered apprenticeships (RA) are programs developed by industry and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Registered apprenticeships provide individuals with industry approved and recognized credentials that have value anywhere in the country. The key components of an RA are:

  •  On-the-job training; supervision by a mentor;
  •  Related academic instruction, often provided at a local community college or training center;
  •  Wage progression; and
  •  Equal employment opportunity pledge.

They range from one-to-six years – with the majority being four years, depending on the occupation, resulting in the tagline coined by PDOT: “Apprenticeships – the other four-year degree.” They lead to an industry-issued, nationally recognized, portable credential for the apprentice and a steady pipeline of competent, well-trained employees for businesses. For some industries, such as manufacturing and construction, apprenticeships have traditionally been the most common training programs, providing both hands-on work experience as well as academic preparation. However, they are becoming more common in industries as diverse as healthcare and information technology. They are becoming more important because they focus on applied learning in high-demand fields.

Apprenticeships help to rebuild Southeast Michigan’s economy

For Southeast Michigan’s economy to grow, we need to ensure we have a skilled workforce. The benefit of apprenticeships is that people can earn as they learn. Apprentices can start working on certain tasks under the mentorship and supervision of an experienced professional while undergoing related academic training and skill building.

The major developments and infrastructure improvements currently taking place in the City of Detroit and across the region depend on the availability of skilled and trained carpenters, electricians, construction laborers, steelworkers, and operating engineers, among others. However, there is a major shortage of skilled-trade workers, particularly in Detroit, despite the commitment by developers to hire Detroiters for a number of positions. Here are some reasons for the challenge:

  • The inability for some applicants to meet the academic requirements;
  • Inability to pass drug tests; or
  • Transportation issues that prevent potential candidates from getting to training or the worksite.

Various organizations have stepped up to develop a number of pre-apprenticeship programs that will help Detroiters qualify for apprenticeship programs. These include Access for All and the Detroit Registered Apprentice Program (DRAP), both of which will be promoted during National Apprenticeship Week.

National Apprenticeship Week in Southeast Michigan

There are many events planned in Southeast Michigan this week to raise awareness of apprenticeships for students and their families as well as celebrate the impact of apprenticeships on workers, employers, and the economy. These include:

  • MEATA/MI-AIM Fall Drive-in Conference sponsored by the Michigan Educators Apprenticeship and Training Organization (MEATA) and Michigan Workforce Development Agency MI-AIM (Apprenticeships, Internships and Mentoring); at Oakland Community College, Auburn Hills Campus, November 17.
  • Highway to High-Demand Jobs, Skilled Trades, and Apprenticeships, at Washtenaw Community College, November 18, 10 a.m. This event will present employment opportunities in the skilled trades to high school students. For more information, contact Marilyn Donham, 734-973-3630.
  • Barton Malow Apprenticeship Expo at Randolph Career and Technical Center, Detroit, November 17, 5-7 p.m. This will provide students and their parents with information on construction skilled trades careers, application requirements, and apprenticeship programs. For more information, contact Dannis Mitchell, 248-914-1243.
  • Student Tour of the Detroit District Preview Center, November 19, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. For more information, contact Jatu Gray, 313 494-5870.

Here is full list of events.

Traditionally, apprenticeships have provided a path to the middle class through “middle skill’ careers – those that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. As the economy continues to change, apprenticeships are evolving to meet the current and future needs of employers and employees. A new analysis of apprenticeships in Michigan will be released by Michigan’s Bureau of Labor Market Information on November 17.

Apprenticeships continue to play a crucial role in Michigan’s talent development system. Look out for future blogs on how Southeast Michigan’s education institutions are working with business, labor, and economic and workforce development to prepare and train the next generation of skilled workers for our fastest-growing industries.