Why Investing In Apprenticeship Makes Good Dollars And Sense

Skilled employees at the BMW plant in South Carolina. (Image: SC Technical College System)

By: Nicholas Wyman 

In a highly polarized election cycle, it is hard to find a topic on which presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree. But there is at least one area of common ground: both candidates know that the strength of the economy depends on getting more people into good jobs.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Whether it’s creating more jobs or filling the millions of job vacancies that exist, tackling unemployment depends on effective training and education. As Clinton stated in her acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, “College is crucial, but a four-year degree should not be the only path to a good job. We’re going to help more people learn a skill or practice a trade and make a good living doing it.”

Clinton’s workforce and skills agenda specifically calls for a tax credit for businesses that hire apprentices, and a bonus on that credit for hiring people under 25. Apprenticeship is a time-tested career-training model that is seeing more and more bipartisan support.

While Trump has never presented a formal agenda on workforce development, he has promised to increase access to higher education and skills training, and to invest in job training and education for veterans.

Courtesy: Nicholas Wyman

Dollar for dollar, no workforce training method packs as much punch as apprenticeship. Every federal dollar invested in apprenticeship programs brings a  $27 return on investment. Apprenticeship combines hands-on training with college coursework, and is paired with scalable wage increases. This earn-while-you-learn model leads directly to mastery of a trade without the burden of high tuition fees and student loan debt.Apprenticeship is key to addressing youth unemployment, widening income disparities and the shrinking of the middle class. Nine out of ten apprentices are employed immediately upon finishing their training, at an average starting salary of around $50,000 a year, and those who complete apprenticeships earn $300,000 more over the course of a career than peers who did not participate in apprenticeships.

When you think about apprenticeships, the word may conjure up an image of 17th century craftsman huddled over a wooden workbench wielding chisels. But, in fact, today’s apprenticeship programs are becoming more sophisticated and progressive, and can be found in many modern fields from engineering, sales and marketing, to computer programming and health care.

In recent years, a program in South Carolinahas become a shining example of how the apprenticeship model applies to sophisticated and diverse fields. Apprenticeship Carolina, a division of the South Carolina Technical College System, works with employers, community colleges, and the Department of Labor to design and implement registered apprenticeships throughout the state. Since 2007, they have grown the number of apprenticeship programs from 90 to 809–a nearly 800% increase.  South Carolina has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of registered youth apprenticeship programs.  Since 2013, over 120 companies – across all industries have registered programs that include high school juniors and seniors.

One of the key ingredients is applying the apprenticeship model across various industries, including health care, energy, transportation, hospitality, IT, and more. Apprenticeship Carolina promotes apprenticeship through strong branding efforts that appeal to both employers and participants. Comprised of six apprenticeship consultants, Apprenticeship Carolina makes it easier for employers to adopt and customize apprenticeships for competitive advantage.

The strength of South Carolina’s jobs training initiatives have made the state one of the most desirable places in the country for foreign businesses to invest in production, creating an influx of good jobs. BMW, Boeing, and Volvo are just a few of the big names. For the third time in four years, South Carolina has been ranked No. 1 in international investment in IBM’s Global Location Trends survey.

There is no “one size fits all” answer. Apprenticeships need to be aligned with the needs of a community, and built on collaboration among educators and employers. Public-private partnerships and expanding the reach of apprenticeships into many different trades are key to the rapid growth of apprenticeship in major countries like the U.K. and Australia. In the U.K., nationwide collaboration among colleges, private training organizations and employers has quickly grown the number of apprentices to two million over the last decade, making up nearly 3% of the nation’s workforce.

Recently, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott (R) and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) reached across the aisle to introduce the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) Act. LEAP is a move to build on South Carolina’s successful model by taking it to the federal level. It incentivizes public-private partnerships and provides a tax credit for employers who hire apprentices.

In an otherwise highly partisan time, it’s reassuring that there is something both parties can agree on. Apprenticeship is a good long-term play, regardless of the election outcome.

Why Investing In Apprenticeship Makes Good Dollars And Sense