Employer Investment in Apprenticeship: Meeting the skills gap

JessicaLoomanMore than half of the NAGLO participants raised their hands when asked if their agencies handled registered apprenticeship. The question came from Jessica Looman, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, who moderated a panel discussion on employer involvement in apprenticeship and dual training.

“Almost every state is looking at the expansion and development of registered apprenticeship or dual training or experiential learning,” said Looman. “This is something that is on the minds of lots of people.”

Looman talked about how her state is involved in registered apprenticeship and dual-training through an initiative called PIPELINE, which stands for Private Investment, Public Education, Labor and Industry Experience. The Department of Labor and Industry holds ongoing council discussions with members of the advanced manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare services, and information technology fields. More than 250 recognized industry experts, employers, educators and labor representatives participate in these councils.

The panel consisted of three members of PIPELINE: Laura Beeth of Fairview Health Systems, Adam Suomala of Leading Age Minnesota, and Bernd Weber of Buhler Inc. The panelists talked about how their companies are using registered apprenticeship and dual training to meet an ever-widening skills gap.

Adam Suomala talked about how employers relied too heavily on the education system to prepare workers.

“What we learned was that there was a disconnect,” said Suomala. “Employers were thinking you (the educators) train them, we hire them and we employ them.”

Suomala’s association, which serves older adult service providers, brought faculty from colleges and employers to the same table.

“There was that great conversation as we looked at developing a career,” he said. “Academics would say you need to have this, this, and this, and the employers would say here’s how it really works out on the floor. It was that coming together that developed a new curriculum — a new career. ”

Panelist Laura Beeth works in the healthcare industry. She said healthcare services continue to boom, giving tremendous opportunities for career pathways.

“We’re looking at all different areas,” she said. “The nursing track, the specialty track, and keeping those diversity pipelines open so we can really focus on entry level health information technology, patient care, health informatics, and more.”

Bernd Weber talked about how his company, Buhler Inc., which has its roots in Europe, is familiar with apprenticeship — especially the German model, which places a high priority in identifying career paths for students early in their academic life.

The European approach differs from the American in terms of attitude. In the US, skilled training has often been seen as something more for troubled-youths than for college-bound students with promising talents. In Germany, it is a respected and common career path. According to the New York Times, about 60 percent of high school students in Germany utilize apprenticeship programs – in fields such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, banking, and hospitality. In the US, fewer than five percent of high school students are involved in apprenticeship.

“We see clearly that there is talent out there,” said Weber. “But right now it’s kind of holding back because of the idea of the parents that kids have to go to college.”

One thing was certain: all the panelists agree that there is a skills gap. Experienced baby boomers are retiring and most potential new hires don’t have the required training.

“We need high knowledge experts in all fields; mechanical, electrical, electronic,” said Weber.

All agreed that registered apprenticeship is a sure bet for employers to obtain workers with the skills they need to run a successful business. With educators and employers working together, workers, companies and economies — will all benefit.

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