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The Value of Apprenticeship Programs for Adults

AUDIO | The Value of Apprenticeship Programs for Adults
While apprenticeship programs are extremely relevant to the mission of community colleges, the cost of running them make it imperative for more financial support to be granted to these institutions.

The following interview was conducted with Holly Moore, the executive director of South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown Campus. Moore’s institution runs a number of successful apprenticeship programs for adult students and, in this interview, she discusses the design of such programs, how they are beneficial for adult students and what challenges are associated with operating them.

1. What are the most common misperceptions people have about apprenticeship programs?

Well, I think that revolves around, kind of, the nature of the development of the apprenticeship and how it came out of … [its history, where] hundreds and hundreds of years ago … it was really a trades-oriented program and I think people feel that it lacks academic rigor. So, I think that’s the most common misperception.

And then, the other thing, I think, is the common misperception on the part of people out there in the general public is that apprenticeship work is “dirty work,” That’s the day of the blacksmith, who had his apprentice — that kind of assumption. And that apprentices are non-professional — that we can’t put an apprentice into a professional-type job. I think those become the center of what is misconceived about apprenticeship.

2. Why are apprenticeship programs particularly valuable for adults?

… One of the things that we know about adult learners is that they don’t come to us with one learning style; they have multiple ways of learning new materials, and one of the best ways that adults learn materials is in an applied study. So, whether it’s trigonometry or whether it’s welding, the student learns that best in a model where they are actually using the tools and materials and applying it to a real-life situation. …

And then, the other thing that I think that’s particular valuable is an economic structure. Apprentices are employed, so they are connected with the employer from day one. And they are supported through that training program by employment. And, the economy right now is saying that you have to work and get your schooling, or get your training, or however you want to refer to it. But it’s a work-education model and apprentices are the original work-education model. Some people refer to it as the original four-year degree, because most apprenticeships are in the neighborhood of four years, usually three to five years depending upon the trade.

So, I think what hooks adult learners, what is important to adults, is that their education is applied and that what they’re learning connects immediately to the workforce and leads to a family-wage job. And, so, all of those kinds of things are typical in apprenticeship programs.

3. Can an apprenticeship program put a student on the path to a degree?

Absolutely! In fact, I think you’ll find a commonality with our program here at Georgetown, as well as apprenticeship programs across the country. [We’re] moving more and more to an integrated, applied associate of arts degree. … Our students are here with us most of the time; our apprentices/students are here with us for four years. They’re given graded, supplemental instruction that they receive from the college. They are getting the hands-on, on-the-job training that they receive from their joint-apprenticeship committee. And, at the same time, what we are doing is offering some of the breadth of requirements that complete an associate of arts degree, so that our students are on a career pathway. So, one of the things that happens with apprentices is, at least in this state, our apprentices’ average age is around 28. So they get out of, let’s say, they get out of their apprenticeship program in their early 30s and for some of our trades people, … it’s a lot of heavy labor and heavy lifting. They can only do that for so many years. So they journey and then, what’s their next step? They are 50 years old and they have 20 more years to work, so what is their next step?

Well, by getting the degree at the same time as they’re getting their journey card, they’re on a pathway to a baccalaureate degree, an applied baccalaureate degree — one of the ones that we offer here at South Seattle Community College is the applied baccalaureate in technical teaching. It’s really designed for our tradespeople to come in and get, within about 18 months to two years, they can complete their requirements both online and some in an applied setting to complete the requirements for their baccalaureate degree and then they can work as technical teachers in the community college system, through their unions or apprenticeship council. …

4. What types of support structures are in place to help the continued delivery of apprenticeship programs for adults?

Well, support services that we have in place would be things like ‘navigators.’ … ‘Navigators’ help the students figure out both the social services, community-based organization systems, the college structures and systems and the employment structures and systems. … The concept of a ‘navigator’ broadens … to include both the educational and employment arena, and not just the social services arena. But [they] are there to help folks get and keep jobs and to progress in their education. Now the navigator is not necessarily an expert in all of these areas, but knows how to connect people in each of these systems. …

We also provide tutorial assistance for our apprentices through the college tutorial programs that we have on campus, certainly the library system is available to our students. …

5. How could the support structure for apprenticeship programs change to help improve the system?

You get into a funding issue here. Right now, we try and offer the classes that are required for the associate of arts degree, here, but we also need to offer them at the job sites. So, in the case of our electricians, we have been able to do that, we’ve had the finances to be able to do that.

But in times of … increasing budget cuts and dwindling funds, … it is a challenge to offer all of these kinds of services to the students at the point where they need them, and often times that’s not on the campus, but it’s at the location where they are. And as I’ve mentioned we serve apprentices from all over the Northwest. If our agreement is with a[n] apprenticeship council, for example, we have an agreement with the Northwest Line workers, and those workers may be in Oregon as well as in Washington, so being able to provide the support necessary for them to be successful in the academic portions of their career pursuits is often times challenging.

6. Is there anything that you’d like to add about the value of apprenticeship programs for adult students?

Well, I think the value, we’ve already described. The issue becomes more of, “How do we fund this?”

It’s the old adage right now that’s really true: it’s becoming harder and harder to fund higher education. And we have a national commitment to apprenticeship. … It’s becoming a very, very popular approach to adult learning, but it is an expensive approach. It is funded both by the employer — because the folks have to be employed — and by the college higher education system to provide the academic training. And, so, it’s an expensive venture and one that, while it’s very viable, we need to explore ways to support it that can make it a choice for higher education, and integral to the mission of community colleges.

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