Low Risk, High Reward: Closing the Skills Gap Through Apprenticeships

Daniel Glaze was at a crossroads. After working in the religious sector for almost nine years, he wanted a career change. He was skilled in UI/UX design and interviewed at a few companies, but felt something wasn’t right. 

“I know my limits,” says Glaze. “I know that I’m a very good designer. I am confident in who I am and my designs. But I also knew that if I were asked to be the sole designer for a startup, I wouldn’t have the chops to succeed.”

When Glaze saw an opening for a User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) designer apprentice on LinkedIn, he knew he had to apply. 

“It was a perfect entry point for me as an entry-level, mid-career change,” he says. “A safe space not only to grow in my UX knowledge but to be able to safely fail. That’s what apprenticeships are designed for, to safely fail and to learn.”

What is an Apprenticeship? 

An apprenticeship is a program that trains a worker to become skilled in a particular profession or trade as a pathway to a career. Apprenticeships are offered by employers, training schools and community colleges and usually combine hands-on with classroom learning and mentorship with an experienced professional. Some programs work closely with community colleges that offer credits for apprenticeship experience.

A registered apprenticeship is nationally recognized by the Department of Labor (DOL) or a state apprenticeship agency. Registered apprenticeships must meet criteria like completing at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job learning. In the last five years, more than 14,000 new apprenticeship programs have been created. Since the full year of 2012, the DOL says there have been more than 2 million new apprentices, a growth of 64%. Upon finishing the program, apprentices receive an industry-recognized certificate of completion. 

In 2022, Glaze was accepted into a three-month apprenticeship program with Umbrage, a crafts-based studio that designs and develops software. He worked closely with senior designers to learn product design and was responsible for building a mobile biking app from the ground up and creating enterprise products for clients. 

“I gained three months of experience I could leverage over people with no real-world experience,” Glaze says. 

How Does an Apprenticeship Work? 

Apprenticeship programs can last from one year to several years. There are thousands of programs across the country targeting various professional industries and skilled trades like construction or technology. 

“Our apprenticeship program is unique within the chemical industry,” says Susan Emmerich, manufacturing talent program manager at BASF (No. 12 on Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 companies for Diversity list). “We bring on apprentices as full-time workers. They get full benefits as an apprentice – they’re pre-entry level and they get everything that a full-time person gets at BASF.”

The “earn as you learn” model allows apprentices to get paid for on-the-job training. No college? No problem. Apprenticeship programs typically require a high school diploma and apprentices can earn academic credit towards a college degree.

“Simply put, we put potential over pedigree, recognizing that about two-thirds of workers in our country have not completed a four-year degree but have the skills and potential to be successful in professional roles,” says Wendy Myers Cambor, managing director and talent strategy lead at Accenture (No. 1 on Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s 2022 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list). “A person’s educational credentials are only one piece of the puzzle and we know from our research that college degree requirements place many jobs out of reach for high-potential individuals.”

Corporate Apprenticeship Programs 

Some apprenticeship programs are offered through an employer or a program sponsor. 

In 2016, Accenture established its internal apprenticeship program. A year later, the company cofounded with AON the Chicago Apprentice Network and published a national professional apprenticeship playbook to help companies jumpstart their programs. 

“In addition to growing our program, we are committed to collaborating with others – employers, civic organizations, government, talent organizations – to lead the apprenticeship movement based on the best practices we’ve established in our successful model,” says Cambor.

In 2022, BASF expanded its North American Apprenticeship Development Program (NAADP) – its regional apprenticeship program for skilled manufacturing jobs. The NAADP provides apprenticeships for up to three years of on-the-job training, full benefits and a competitive wage. Upon completion of the program, apprentices are considered for full-time positions.

“They’ve got not only the paid on-the-job training and either an industry certificate or upwards of an associate’s degree, but they have a ready-made career for them,” says Emmerich.  “If they complete [the program] in a good way, they go right into an entry-level position. So it’s a win-win.”

What Is the Skills Gap?

More than 80% of businesses face skills gaps — when a worker’s skills don’t align with the skills required for a job. McKinsey & Company says one solution to bridging the divide could be apprenticeships. 

“Apprenticeships are uniquely beneficial because they not only address skills gaps but opportunity gaps as well,” says Cambor. “Many people in our economy risk missing out on professional opportunities that provide social and economic mobility. Apprenticeships provide a win-win solution for all involved: an ‘earn and learn’ experience for workers seeking to acquire new skills and access to a broader, motivated and skilled talent pool for companies,” she adds. 

According to Korn Ferry research, more than 85 million jobs could go unfilled by 2030 because there aren’t enough skilled people to take them, resulting in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenue. 

“One of the challenges has been that operator and technician roles are very demanding roles,” says Pat Rossman, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at BASF. “This opportunity to learn from within while part of the company – with people on your right and people on your left who are going through the same thing – it’s part of our talent development strategy and workforce development.”

Emmerich says companies in the manufacturing industry need a ready workforce because,  depending on the technician role, there can be a high turnover rate.   

“They need that talent ready to go,” she says. “Because if they don’t have the talent, eventually you have to shut down and you can’t do the volume at our plants. They also need a workforce that has the right mindsets, the right attitudes and the right skills. So when we create an apprenticeship program that’s customized for our company, then we can, from the ground up, teach them and train them in not only the right skills but the right mindsets.”

How To Get an Apprenticeship

First, find the industry you are interested in targeting, then search for apprenticeships on job sites like Linkedin, Indeed and Glassdoor. The Department of Labor also has an online registry of apprenticeship programs throughout the country. 

However, landing an apprenticeship may be easier said than done. In general, apprenticeships are competitive because there are relatively few available. 

“We’ve had apprenticeships for blacksmiths and plumbers and electricians and those who’ve always seemed to truly work out,” says Glaze. “I hope that there’s a way that apprenticeships could be a part of the corporate world way more than they currently are. It’s a low risk, high reward for both parties.” 

Glaze was hopeful he would be offered a full-time staff position at Umbrage after he completed the apprenticeship, but he wasn’t hired. While Glaze was disappointed, he says it was a blessing in disguise.  

“Two months later, I ended up getting the job that I have now,” says Glaze, a UX Designer at Woodforest National Bank. “I truly believe that I would not have gotten this job if it wasn’t for my apprenticeship. I know that for a fact.”

Rossman says the flame has been lit for the value of apprenticeships. 

“In the United States, we’ve had traditional approaches to working,” she says. “Apprenticeships include some things that have been done in Europe and other cultures, maybe more than we’ve done in the United States. It opens you up to creative thinking about what we can do to be the workforce of the future and anticipate the needs of the workforce of the future.”