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Recently, a colleague shared with me the Urban Institute's March 2009 report, "The Benefits and Challenges of Registered Apprenticeship: The Sponsors' Perspective," which was commissioned by ETA. I hadn't stumbled across it before, and was glad to find it.  It offers a great illustration of the many benefits of Registered Apprenticeship - from the credible perspective of actual program sponsors - and, perhaps more importantly, offers insight into key opportunities the public workforce system has to engage with and support Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Some key findings from the report:

  • Registered Apprenticeship enjoys strong support from program sponsors - nearly 9 out of 10 sponsors would strongly recommend Registered Apprenticeship to others.
  • Program completion rates reported by sponsors were very high.
  • Sponsors most often use current employees to recruit new apprentices, with the second most cited recruitment source being community colleges and public technical schools.  Interestingly, the One-Stop Career Center system, along with unions, were the least cited recruitment source.
  • Sponsors' interactions with the public workforce system were quite limited.  While nearly 30 percent of sponsors said that they had had at least one interaction with the system, only 17 percent reported that they had used a One-Stop to post apprenticeship openings and only 16 percent reported that they they had received applicants referred by the workforce system.
  • At the same time, many sponsors indicated that they need help in finding and screening applicants.
These findings tell me that those of us in the workforce system have a real opportunity to improve our outreach to and engagement with Registered Apprenticeship programs, and to fill a critical recruitment and screening gap - a key component of our core business!

If you haven't yet read the report, you can access it here.  I think it makes a compelling case for the strengths and successes of Registered Apprenticeship programs, and really demonstrates why Registered Apprenticeship should be leveraged as a key talent development strategy within the public workforce system.

Before I get into the main focus of this blog, I'd like to take a moment to share with you the reason why I am dressed in black from head to toe today.  I will be saying goodbye to an important figure in Louisiana's apprenticeship community.  He was the apprenticeship coordinator for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 247 in Alexandria, Louisiana for thirty one years.

Let me repeat that just in case you overlooked that number.  31 YEARS. 

I don't know about you, but I haven't come across that many people who dedicate themselves to one cause for that amount of time.  For many in my generation, it's almost unfathomable to work for the same employer for ten years, much less thirty one.   Not only did this gentleman work for the same organization for that length of time (actually longer - he started as a welding instructor in '73), he dedicated his entire life to it.  He believed in the opportunities his organization was able to provide its members, and he always went above and beyond to develop apprentices into high skilled journeyman.

Therefore, I dedicate this little blog to you, Johnny Gypin.  You will be missed by many, but your impact on the lives you touched throughout your stay here will not. 

***************

A few weeks ago, the powers-that-be behind this apprenticeship community website asked me if I would mind reading this "article" and blogging about it.  I thought - Sure, why not?  I didn't have a particularly inspired subject already prepared anyway.  The best I had come up with was "A Day in the Life of a State Director" which I personally found hilarious, but perhaps for the general public - not so much. 

Note to Self:  Never accept an assignment without knowing the details first.

Here's a little bit of background.  I am a regular blogger here, and I am supposed to blog at least once a month.  My blog should have been submitted last week.  Well, when I went to open this "article" that had been previously emailed to me (I had about 30 minutes to work on it), I realized that it was forty five pages long. No pictures, no charts or graphs, just forty five straight pages of text. Call me crazy, but I am of the opinion that an "article" is a few pages in length - not forty five.  Forty five equals a Master's thesis.  Needless to say, I didn't even attempt to begin it last week.  Today, after finally carving out some time to tackle this project, it has taken me a considerable amount of time to absorb the thesis and its contents well enough to blog about it.

This white paper/thesis/report by the Center for American Progress (herein referred to as "The Center") entitled "Working Learners - Educating Our Entire Workforce for Success in the 21st Century" turned out to be an interesting read.  As one might ascertain from the title of it, this is focused on working learners, who they are, what they need, and how we are failing them from a workforce development system perspective.  Their definition of a "working learner" is an adult who has already entered the workforce but needs additional education to get ahead.  The concern is that not enough is being done to get this population the education and training they so desperately need.  The Center wants to take President Obama's Pell Grant and unemployment assistance initiatives a few steps further to rectify it.

Now, I could go into a long, drawn out summary of this white paper, but a summary of a forty five page document can't exactly be summed up in a paragraph or two, not adequately, anyway.  In the spirit of saving valuable time, I'll cut out a lot of the data, footnotes, and examples that an adequate summary would include, and give you the big picture. 

THE BIG PICTURE SUMMARY:

Our system sucks. 

Any questions?

Okay, okay!  I'll give you a little more than that.  Our post secondary educational system in this country is, for the most part (and excluding our treasured Registered Apprenticeship programs), not designed to serve the working adult well.  It's getting better, but it's a slowly developing process.  Four year colleges and universities are the biggest culprits, who cater more to young, full time students.  Our workforce development system, and in particular WIA, is supposed to act as a gateway to training and educational opportunities for working learners, but unfortunately only about 40% of WIA funds are spent on training, with the balance spent on job placements.  WIA is set up in such a way that the program is very cumbersome to navigate when trying to deliver opportunities for adults that need to upgrade their skills and earn a living at the same time.

Given that most of you who might be reading my drivel are probably familiar with registered apprenticeship, this information is not exactly news.  Most of us are intimately familiar with WIA shortcomings, which make our efforts to integrate registered apprenticeship with the program sometimes difficult.  If you're not familiar with them, then read this report - it is an eye opener. 

As I started reading it, I kept looking for and expecting the words "Registered Apprenticeship" or even just "apprenticeship" to pop up on every page, because as we all know, Registered Apprenticeship is the premier solution to the plight of working learners, or those that aspire to be in this category.  Not that I'm biased, of course.  I kept reading, and reading, and reading, and finally found the word "apprenticeship" mentioned in passing on page 32. Page 32?!  In addition, "Registered Apprenticeship" was never mentioned, and the word "apprenticeship" was found in four places.  That's it, folks, four.  Here you have an entire report on working learners, and Registered Apprenticeship is barely recognized or referred to?  There is something seriously wrong with this picture. 

The report does provide some great ideas about how to promote, provide funding, and amend WIA and Pell Grant regulations in order to make it easier for adults to access the training/education and skills upgrades they may need to stay competitive in the job market and make a decent living.  This includes providing flexible financial assistance, long term career coaching, and educational institutions finally adapting their services to the needs of working learners.  Shortcomings aside, this is a report that gives an excellent overview of the current landscape for working learners, and very interesting and thoughtful suggestions for overcoming the roadblocks that working learners face.  Check it out.

 

 

Tough Times Require Innovative Strategies:

Bayless Middle Apprenticeship Project

 

As federal funding for schools becomes less available and the politicians in Washington, DC require more accountability, school districts are reaching out to non-traditional partners to assist them in solving problems. One such example is the partnership between the Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD), Bayless School District (BSD), and the St. Louis Floor Layers Joint Apprenticeship Program (FLJAP). Herein, the FLJAP modeled the Middle College Experience promoted by the Gates Foundation in an attempt to curtail the high school drop-out rate.

 

The Bayless Middle Apprenticeship Project (MAP) is a two-year program that allows 11th and 12th grade high school students to complete the related studies of their apprenticeship as part of their secondary career and technical education experience. Courses are delivered by a FLJAP-approved instructor. Students who elect to work their junior/senior summer do so as US-DOL Office of Apprenticeship registered apprentices. However, a three-way contract is signed by students, parents, and the contractors to ensure students will return for their senior year in the fall. Upon high school graduation, students are provided direct entry into the trade. With only four years of OJE hours to accumulate, students fulfill their related training requirements during this time by attending Ivy Technical College for a series of online courses. Upon graduating from the FLJAP, apprentices receive their US-DOL Journeyworker certificate and an Associate’s degree.

 

To date, studies have shown that MAP students perform better than their peers, as follows:

MAP Students                   Bayless Students (Random Control Group)

Absenteeism                     5.6 days                                8 days (2007-08)

Increase in GPA                31%                                       -3%

 


 

A Message from Jennifer Murphy, Our Featured Apprentice

 

It’s been five years of apprenticeship, and I’m done, I’m done, I’m done!!!

Over the past year I’ve been fond of telling the guys in my class that if the apprenticeship were high school we’d be Super-Seniors!  If it were college we’d be on our way to a Masters degree. 

When I started the apprenticeship program the five years stretched out in front of me and although I knew logically that the time would pass, on a gut level it felt like I’d be an apprentice FOREVER. 

But, as they say: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

I won’t say that the days flew by.  There were some very real challenges along the way.  Apprenticeship is demanding and tough, but the days go by and eventually you look back and realize that you’ve settled in, set your pace, and you’re making steady progress.  It’s like hiking on a ridge; not necessarily easy, but you can see where you’ve come from and where you’re going. 

If you are in construction like me you can plan on waking up and getting out of bed sore and tired every day, and hitting the road so early that you wonder which of the few other cars on the freeway are on their way to their construction jobs and which are on their way home from wild nights out.  When you stop somewhere for coffee in the morning - even though you’re practically sleepwalking - you still recognize which of your fellow early risers are in the trades by their boots and orange t-shirts or vests, and you nod and smile hello every day until one of your morning routines varies due to a layoff, a new job-site, or a new start-time.  You get to work and you face the day and if you try even a little bit you learn everything you need to know. 

Of course you learn about the tools, and the blue prints.  You pick up on the little secrets and strategies that allow you to do your work quickly and efficiently.  You develop an eye for problems that can be avoided by running your work thoughtfully.  You notice things like receptacles that the prints show in the middle of a window and you save your boss money and headaches when you realize the architects forgot to account for voltage drop on a long circuit, or when you notice that the electrical panels delivered to the job site don’t have the right arc-fault rating, and you deal with these little bumps before they turn into hurdles.

Perhaps equally important, you learn diplomacy and job-site courtesy.  With hundreds of guys from dozens of trades (not to mention inspectors, investors, fire chiefs, etc) in and out of job-sites, there are countless brushes with conflict.  Everyone is there to earn a buck, and some guys see any impediment to their own task as a personal affront.  Crowded parking, materials stored in the area you need to work in, tools disappearing, trash and scraps left dangerously scattered around, light stands “borrowed”... you need to learn to approach the right person and to develop the right attitude to have these concerns taken seriously so they will be dealt with, because if these matters aren’t handled right they can act as kindling near a powder keg.  All this and more is steadily absorbed throughout apprenticeship until the days blur together and the lessons become ingrained as second nature. 

I got two of my very own apprentices within a couple of days of officially becoming a journeyman.  I was hardly done celebrating my raise and not having to go to school anymore, and suddenly I was responsible for not only my own work, but two other guys’ too!  We’ve been working together as a team for a few weeks now, although it still seems strange to be the one making the decisions for all three of us and to have to catch and correct my guys’ mistakes and find solutions with them when they hit snags, but I welcome these new challenges.  I’m proud to have gotten to where I am now, and I can tell you it was all worth it. 

Mike's Story
Posted on July 20, 2009 by Kristen Ayres
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MIKE’S STORY

Contributed by Stephen Mandes, Executive Director, National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc (NIMS)

 This is about a young man overcoming adversity.   Let’s call him Mike.

 

Mike was a youth incarcerated in an adult prison in Minnesota as a felony offender.  Mike enrolled in the NIMS-MPowered Program, a youthful apprenticeship program funded by the U. S. Department of Labor through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills(NIMS) and delivered at Stillwater Prison by Hennepin Technical College and HIRED.

 

Mike earned three NIMS Level I manufacturing credentials during his Stillwater training.

Joe Fredkove at Hennepin Technical College was meeting with employers on Mike’s behalf, and that is no easy job in the midst of a recession.  Joe asked one particular metalworking company if they would simply help Mike out by conducting an ”informational” interview with him with the understanding the company had no openings.

 

Mike did such a good job of convincing the employer that he was motivated that he was capable and hungry to work that the company offered him a part time temporary job.  Mike accepted the part time offer and within three months proved himself to where the company promoted him to a fulltime, regular job with benefits and a salary increase.  He is now on a career path in metal stamping.

 

But Mike’s challenges were not over.  There was the matter of getting to work and for Mike that meant the public bus line.  Picture Minnesota in the dead of winter with a 20 minute walk to and from the bus.  Mike’s positive attitude to the world of work, to his employer and to his fellow employees is such that on very cold days, his co-workers would drive him to the bus stop on their breaks.

 

The company says that Mike’s enthusiasm is such that he has positively impacted other employees in his unit.