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New Study Supports the Promise of Apprenticeships

Click HERE to view New Study Supports the Promise of Apprenticeship as a multimedia presentation.

New Study Shows the Promise of Apprenticeship - KY FAME Study

Today’s manufacturers just can’t seem to catch a break. For years, they’ve been battling an ongoing skills gap that has made it very difficult for them to hire the skilled workers they need to fill their open positions and seize growth opportunities.

Modern manufacturing facilities boast a wide range of new automation technologies that are increasing efficiency and productivity. Commonly referred to as “Industry 4.0” technologies, they require workers with more advanced skills than those possessed by your average high school graduate.

To complicate things, the Coronavirus pandemic changed life as we know it in 2020, leaving millions unemployed. Many people are looking to the manufacturing sector to spark the economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession.

However, as the ongoing skills gap has already shown, most of the millions of people left unemployed in the wake of COVID-19 don’t have the advanced skills today’s manufacturers need. That’s why the key to a successful economic recovery involves equipping people with in-demand skills as quickly as possible.

There’s no shortage of opinions about how best to do this. One approach that holds great promise encourages local employers to partner with community colleges to develop new apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships have been around for a long time, and they have a solid track record of success. However, there has been little data collected to explain how and why these programs have been successful — until now.

In this article, we will take an in-depth look at the findings of a recent study of Kentucky FAME, a successful apprenticeship program, by Tamar Jacoby, President of Opportunity America, and Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow Emeritus in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution (the “Kentucky FAME Study”).

Apprenticeship Works

Apprenticeship is the gold standard of workforce trainingTwo decades ago, only about one-third of jobs in the United States required more than a high school diploma. Times have certainly changed. Today, that figure has doubled: roughly two-thirds of jobs demand some type of postsecondary education or training — not necessarily a four-year degree, but some type of specialized training.

The Kentucky FAME Study cites statistics that dramatically highlight this shift:

“From the beginning of the Great Recession through early 2010, America lost 5.6 million jobs for workers with a high school education or less, and the economy that emerged from the downturn looked very different than the one that existed before the crash. Employers in virtually every sector had revamped and retooled to require fewer workers with more advanced skills.”

Many approaches have been taken to address the changing job market. “But among the most celebrated, seen by many as the gold standard of workforce training, was apprenticeship — training that combines classroom learning with paid on-the-job experience, teaching skills in demand across an industry,” notes the Kentucky FAME Study.

Indeed, according to an article by Adedayo Akala for NPR:

“Apprenticeships have long played a key role in career development…Apprenticeships have usually been known for trade work — welding, plumbing, electrical — but are still a route to high-paying jobs without the high cost of a four-year degree.”

This fact is more important than ever in a time when unemployed workers don’t have the time or money to pursue a four-year degree. As former U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is fond of saying, apprenticeship is “the other college, except without the debt.”

The Kentucky FAME Study notes that:

“The earn-and-learn model fell into some disuse in the US in the later decades of the 20th century. But recent years have brought a strong revival of interest and robust efforts — by two US presidents and a broad array of companies, community colleges, philanthropic funders and workforce education advocates — to expand the number of apprenticeships available.”

In spite of recent renewed interest in apprenticeships, few researchers have tried to study the effectiveness of apprenticeships. That’s why the recently-released Kentucky FAME Study sheds important light on how and why apprenticeship programs can prepare a wide variety of people for high-skill, high-pay jobs.

Kentucky FAME

FAME is a national network of nearly 400 companies in 13 statesIn 2010, the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) got its start when Toyota Motor North America and a few other manufacturers in central Kentucky joined forces to create a talent pipeline that would produce the skilled workers they needed.

KY FAME, as it came to be known, paired employers with local community colleges to provide a unique mix of classroom instruction and on-the-job training. According to Josh Mitchell, in a Wall Street Journal article:

“Students of FAME – a mix of new high-school grads and older factory workers well into their careers – typically spend two days a week in class and three days on the factory floor, earning a part-time salary. They learn to maintain and repair machinery; traditional subjects such as English, math and philosophy; and soft skills such as work ethic and teamwork. After earning an associate degree, most work full time for the factories that sponsored them [as highly-skilled industrial maintenance technicians].”

According to the Kentucky FAME Study, “[c]lassroom learning is coordinated with what happens in the plant so that academic instruction and on-the-job experience reinforce each other.” Importantly, “the program is designed to prepare learners to work anywhere in the manufacturing industry — nothing about the instruction is specific to Toyota or any other FAME employer.”

One of the key aspects of the KY FAME program is the emphasis it places on “college completion and attainment of academic credentials. The hallmark of the FAME model, what distinguishes it from many other earn-and-learn programs: participating companies are organized in regional employer collectives that come together to sponsor programs housed at local community colleges.”

As the authors of the Kentucky FAME Study note, the model developed by the KY FAME organizers has clearly worked: “A decade later, FAME is a national network of nearly 400 companies in 13 states managed by the National Association of Manufacturers’ education and research arm, the Manufacturing Institute.”

Laura Aka, in a WorkingNation article, notes that “the now multi-state training initiative known as FAME USA-Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program has been given a resounding endorsement as a workforce development model that should be replicated around the country.”

Indeed, the Kentucky FAME Study concludes:

“A national model of employer-provided training — founded, funded and managed by manufacturing companies — FAME stands at the crossroads of the push to expand apprenticeship and the drive to align it more closely with the nation’s goals for postsecondary credential attainment.”

Quantifying Success

KY FAME students graduate with an associate degree, a FAME certificate, & almost 1800 hours of work experienceEveryone familiar with KY FAME and its expansion over the past decade understands that it’s a successful program. Now, thanks to the Kentucky FAME Study, we can quantify that success with statistics generated from data gathered by researchers.

According to Laura Aka’s article:

“Data was collected by the Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS) comparing graduates of the FAME program with other students from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System [(KCTCS)] who shared similar geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The numbers compared the two groups’ overall graduation rates; completion rates by gender, race, and ethnicity; and post-training salaries.”

By all accounts, researchers were astounded by the results. For example, the Kentucky FAME Study found a significant difference in graduation rates:

“Among students who entered KCTCS between 2010-11 and 2016-17, FAME participants were significantly more likely than non-FAME participants to complete their program of study — roughly 80 percent of FAME students graduated, compared with 29 percent of non-FAME students. Comparisons by gender, race and ethnicity showed similar gaps.”

Upon completing the program, KY FAME graduates have a lot to show for their efforts. As Laura Aka notes, “students have an associate degree, a FAME certificate, and almost 1800 hours of work experience.” Graduates “also earn a variety of technical credentials — credit-bearing academic certificates in subjects like electrical maintenance and robotics,” according to the Kentucky FAME Study.

These credentials combined with the technical instruction and foundational academic skills gained during the program set students up for future success. Indeed, some students “choose to continue their studies — FAME curriculum is designed to prepare the way — obtaining bachelor’s degrees in engineering or business management.”

All of these impressive outcomes lead to perhaps the most important quantifier of success: most KY FAME students graduate with permanent jobs lined up with the companies that sponsored them. And those jobs tend to pay extremely well, as the Kentucky FAME Study found:

“One year after completing a KCTCS program, FAME graduates’ median earnings were $59,164 a year, compared with $36,379 for non-FAME participants. Three years after completion, FAME graduates were earning $89,360, compared with $41,085 for the non-FAME group. Five years after completion, FAME graduates were earning nearly $98,000, compared to roughly $52,783 for non-FAME participants — a difference of more than $45,000 a year.”

As astounding as those numbers are, they’re even more remarkable when you take into account one additional benefit of the KY FAME program: “[t]he federation’s one hard-and-fast rule for employer members: they must pay apprentices enough to cover college costs, and most FAME students graduate debt-free.”

The Secrets to Success

Apprenticeship: there can be no effective career preparation without employersBeyond quantifying the achievements of the KY FAME program, researchers also thought it was critical to try to determine why the program has been so successful. Through in-depth interviews with graduates, employers, and instructors familiar with the program, researchers were able to uncover the key secrets to success.

Without a doubt, one of the primary reasons KY FAME has been so successful is the strong partnerships that have been formed between employers and educators. As the Kentucky FAME Study points out:

“It’s a cardinal rule of the new job-focused education and training emerging nationwide: there can be no effective career preparation without employers. Only employers know what skills are in demand at their companies. Few know better than employers how technology is transforming their industries or what skills will be needed in the workplace of tomorrow. And engagement by employers, helping to ensure that educators are teaching in-demand skills — this year’s trending coding language, not last year’s, or the more sophisticated skills needed for new manufacturing jobs — is what makes today’s job-focused education and training different from the old, often ineffective vocational education of the past.”

Students wholeheartedly agree:

“Asked about the most valuable features of the program — what makes it effective in preparing graduates to succeed in the workplace — 94 percent singled out ‘what I learned on the job.’ Respondents were also strongly supportive of the program’s signature combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.”

The fact that employer/educator partnership is a key component of success should come as no surprise, since the KY FAME program was initiated by a proactive group of employers looking to create a strong talent pipeline. However, the Kentucky FAME Study confirms its importance for others looking to replicate the program’s success:

“The new consensus about the importance of collaboration between educators and employers has been reflected in more than two decades of public policy. Federal spending on job training and career education is increasingly tied to employer involvement. State and federal policymakers search for ways to incentivize the private sector to engage. But even as some companies, large and small, step up to take on the challenge, many have not. And few observers quarrel with the skeptics’ broader charge: whatever companies are doing, it’s not enough. Employers need to shoulder more responsibility for workers’ skills.”

The Kentucky FAME Study identified another key to success, and it might be surprising to some:

“A last distinguishing feature of FAME, for many employers, the principal appeal of the program: technical training accounts for only one-third of the curriculum. As important and intertwined with everything students do are soft skills — both basic work habits like timeliness and attendance and higher-order soft skills like critical thinking and problem solving. ‘The emphasis is on the person,’ FAME leadership explains, ‘the technician, not the technology.’”

That means two-thirds of KY FAME training consists of employability skills. These skills set KY FAME graduates apart from their peers and uniquely prepare them for the highly-skilled positions today’s manufacturers need to fill. As Laura Aka notes, “[i]t is the intentionality of the deeper soft skills. The ones that really go to initiative, presentation skills, diligence, communication, and things that are that next level.”

Replicating Success

Apprenticeship: earn-and-learn training worksThe success of the KY FAME program was recognized early on, which has led to its expansion over the past decade to more than 400 employers, 13 states, and more than two dozen community and technical colleges.

Given what researchers now know about the magnitude of and reasons for its success, it’s no surprise that many people want to see the successes of the FAME program scaled to a national level to expand apprenticeships across the country. Leaders also hope to expand programming beyond advanced manufacturing, creating additional occupational pathways for students in areas such as welding, machining, and logistics.

The Kentucky FAME Study summarizes its findings as follows:

“With policymakers across the US working to scale the apprenticeship model, employers and educators in a broad range of industries can learn from FAME and its successes. The first and most important lesson: earn-and-learn training works. When structured properly and managed in the right way, it’s a boost for students, a boon for employers and an unparalleled strategy for addressing economic inequality. The KY FAME graduates whose opinions we explored identified the critical features of the model, essential for any program’s success: a robust, well-structured on-the-job experience, closely coordinated classroom learning, attention to both hard and soft skills, high expectations and ample student supports.”

What is needed from policymakers to effectively expand apprenticeship nationwide? According to the Kentucky FAME Study, one of the essential elements to focus on is “more incentives for employers to launch earn-and learn initiatives.” The study also identifies a few tools policymakers can use to provide those incentives, including:

  • technical assistance from third-party intermediaries equipped to help companies launch programs;
  • tax incentives; and
  • more government funding for the classroom portion of earn-and-learn programs.

Importantly, the authors of the Kentucky FAME Study also encourage policymakers to “not lose sight of older, less advantaged, less likely students as they create incentives to expand apprenticeship. This is where the earn-and-learn model can potentially add the most value — the biggest payoff for learners and for economic mobility.”

The Promise of IRAPs

All learners can benefit from apprenticeshipBoth the Obama and Trump administrations focused on expanding apprenticeships. While the number of apprentices nationwide has doubled in the past decade, the overall number of apprentices remains low and much remains to be done.

Recently, policymakers have begun to concentrate on expanding apprenticeship beyond traditional areas, like construction, to nontraditional sectors, such as healthcare, information technology, and human resources. Is this a good idea, since many of these sectors include white-collar occupations that would usually recruit four-year college graduates?

The authors of the Kentucky FAME Study believe “[t]here’s no harm in this: as FAME’s top achievers show and our findings about KY FAME earnings underscore, all learners can benefit from apprenticeship.” They’re not alone in this view.

Many people believe new industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) will provide new opportunities for both American workers and industries that desperately need skilled talent by expanding the use of the apprenticeship model to industries that haven’t used it in the past.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Apprenticeship.gov website:

“Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs are high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized as such by a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) pursuant to the DOL’s standards. These programs provide individuals with opportunities to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills. IRAPs include a paid-work component and an educational component and result in an industry-recognized credential. An IRAP is developed or delivered by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations.”

If IRAPs are as successful as many people hope, you can be certain that the most successful programs will have learned from the example set by the KY FAME program. When employers partner with local educational institutions to teach future workers the skills they need — both in the classroom and on the job — they will leverage the power and promise of apprenticeship to create the pipeline of skilled talent they need.

 

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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