Meet the Emerging Group of Professionals Who Support Apprenticeship Expansion
In 2019, I was a relatively new apprenticeship representative in Oregon’s state apprenticeship agency. I had been tasked with helping a local school district design and implement a Registered Apprenticeship Program in advanced manufacturing to serve high school juniors and seniors. Oregon hadn’t had youth-focused apprenticeship for years, and I faced a lot of pressure to get this program right.
This network of apprenticeship professionals is essential to increasing the scale of and continuing to diversify apprenticeship in the U.S.
I knew why apprenticeship programs benefit youth, but I needed to know how to implement and get a program off the ground. I also knew apprenticeship leaders in my state connected with leaders from other states to discuss apprenticeship expansion strategies, but the knowledge gained from these connections was not trickling down to the front-line practitioner level. And while I knew that being an apprenticeship representative was a niche career, there certainly were other professionals in other states doing similar work. I just didn’t know how to find them.
During my search to connect with peers, I learned I was not alone in my feelings. Even four years later, from the vantage point I have as a technical assistance consultant for state apprenticeship programs, I see many front-line apprenticeship staff facing similar isolation. By connecting these professionals and supporting them in their work, we can promote the use of best practices and potentially improve retention within the apprenticeship field.
Recognizing a Class of Skilled Professionals
Since 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor has made investments of over $505 million in grant funding to states to grow and diversify apprenticeship programs. Many states also have allocated resources to implement state-specific apprenticeship expansion initiatives. As a result, positions like the apprenticeship representative job that I held before joining AIR have been steadily increasing across the country, which has solidified the “apprenticeship professional” as a role in the apprenticeship system. This network of apprenticeship professionals is essential to increasing the scale of and continuing to diversify apprenticeship in the U.S.
While these professionals have a shared goal of helping to expand apprenticeship programs, these skilled workers have various titles depending on the state: apprenticeship navigator, apprenticeship expansion specialist, apprenticeship and career coordinator, apprenticeship training representative, business engagement specialist, and many more. Further, in my state, apprenticeship representatives are housed in the state apprenticeship agency, but apprenticeship staff in other states may be located in organizations across government, workforce, education, and non-profit sectors.
Through our experience working with every state in our role as a technical assistance provider for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship, AIR has identified shared characteristics and skillsets of the apprenticeship professional.
Apprenticeship professionals have a range of responsibilities, including:
- Program development: working with employers and sponsors to develop apprenticeship standards and design programs that meet their training needs with attention to inclusive design strategies;
- Outreach and recruitment: establishing strong relationships with business and industry stakeholders to encourage employers to adopt the apprenticeship training model or join existing apprenticeship programs. Recruiting applicants for multiple registered apprenticeship programs;
- Technical assistance and support: providing ongoing support for program sponsors and assisting them with meeting requirements for implementing Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) in apprenticeship and in leveraging partnerships that can support both apprentices and employers; and
- Program monitoring and improvement: monitoring program compliance with federal and state regulations related to operations and EEO, evaluating programs based on data analysis and trends, and making recommendations for improvement.
These roles require knowledge regarding:
- The Registered Apprenticeship system at both the federal and state level, as well as key partners and funders within the Registered Apprenticeship ecosystem;
- Program development and design strategies and the creation of apprenticeship program standards;
- Policies and strategies related to EEO in Registered Apprenticeship;
- Current state and regional workforce needs and trends; and
- Consultative approaches to business engagement to effectively connect with employers on apprenticeship.
The Apprenticeship Professionals Learning Network
In recognition of the need to support and build professional development opportunities for apprenticeship professionals to connect and collaborate, AIR launched the Apprenticeship Professionals Learning Network in February 2023.
The network is a virtual learning community for apprenticeship professionals at all levels of experience to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other’s experiences designing, implementing, and sustaining high-quality apprenticeship programs.
The network seeks to drive both skill development and peer connection by providing:
- Curated, easily accessible, and practitioner-focused resources that support learning and professional development;
- Case studies, guides, and toolkits to help apprenticeship professionals build and implement their skills;
- Monthly webinars to discuss practical approaches to the topic of month with dedicated time for peer learning and networking; and
- Bimonthly newsletters that are practice-focused on themes critical to apprenticeship expansion, including business engagement strategies, supporting apprentice success, and effective partner engagement.
In the next phase of network, we will launch of the Apprenticeship Professionals Learning Portal. This online learning platform features courses in key apprenticeship topics such as apprenticeship fundamentals, business engagement, gender equity in construction apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeship training programs, and youth labor laws. Modules are designed to be no longer than 15 minutes so that apprenticeship professionals can fit learning into their schedules. Additional topics and content will be added on an ongoing basis.
The response to the Apprenticeship Professionals Learning Network has been enthusiastic; over 730 individuals have joined in the first few months. The positive feedback reinforces what I felt as an apprenticeship representative and what the AIR team knows from years of innovating in the apprenticeship space: Apprenticeship professionals are hungry for knowledge and connection.
I am proud of the work AIR is doing to support apprenticeship professionals. Had I had access to such a network, I could have more easily identified individuals doing similar work in other states and learned from their experience rather than spending months creating frameworks that already existed and forging ahead through trials and error.Learn more about AIR’s efforts to advance apprenticeship.