Published on 2017/11/17

Apprenticeship Programming Could Reduce the Skills Gap, But Employer Investment Is Needed

The EvoLLLution | Apprenticeship Programming Could Reduce the Skills Gap, But Employer Investment Is Needed
Apprenticeship programming can make huge strides to closing the skills gap while also creating shared benefits for employers, workers and the state, and colleges can play a role in bringing more of these programs stateside.

Apprenticeship is not new. It is a proven earn-and-learn strategy, dating as far back as the Middle Ages, used to train highly skilled craftsmen. Traditionally the term refers to a program utilized by an employer combining on-the-job training with related classroom instruction preparing employees for jobs deemed most critical. While apprenticeship has always been linked to the trades, the model has evolved into a method to train the most highly skilled, knowledge-critical positions. Doctors, nurses and electricians are trained using this classroom and clinical model. Simulating the workplace is difficult and falls short of real-world experience that is requested by employers. Clinical or on-the-job training (OJT) is the most effective way to learn in real time using real equipment to address real situations.

Apprenticeship produces skilled professionals with real work experience, demonstrated competency, and work ethic—the model employee. This is every employer’s dream and a potential solution to workforce issues in Indiana and in the United States.

Though apprenticeship has been around since the Middle Ages, and is widely recognized as a successfully model, employers sometimes struggle to understand and adopt it as a strategy. It is not just a training program and requires commitment on the part of the employer and the employee. An agreement between the employer and employee needs to be well defined and provide a progressive wage to the employee as they attain more knowledge and skills, becoming increasingly valuable to the employer. The Department of Labor (DOL) applies this definition to programs that are registered with their state or federal offices. Registration means that the occupation or trade is aligned with a DOL-recognized standard ensuring rigor and competency. Registered apprentices successfully completing their apprenticeship attain an internationally recognized credential-journeyperson card-distinguishing them as masters or experts in their field or position.

At Ivy Tech Community College, we use the DOL’s definition and refer to apprenticeships as registered programs. Many companies use apprenticeship colloquially to reference training programs with some form of workplace learning. The difference is the recognized standard and full-time employment. In registered programs apprentices are full-time employees who are trained to an internationally recognized standard. Non-registered programs may be great models including work and learn and demonstrated competencies, yet the participants may or may not be full-time employees and are not trained to a standard. We refer to non-registered training programs as company programs, usually with no defined agreement between the employer and employee and the OJT can be either a paid or unpaid internship or co-op.

Over 250,000 employers utilize registered apprenticeship programs in the United States, training approximately 505,000 apprentices. Diversity is organic in apprenticeships as student success depends more on ability and competency. So the pool of employees includes minorities, women and dislocated workers. Because the need for these highly skilled and educated employees is so great, companies are also focusing on youth. Youth apprenticeships are cropping up all over the country as industry recognizes it as a way to attract talent at the high school level to high-wage, high-demand careers. An added bonus is that they have a pathway to begin full-time careers upon graduation with some experience and a portion of their related classroom training complete.

Currently the major industry sectors who participate in registered programs include construction, manufacturing, telecommunications, information technology, service and retail, healthcare, the military and the public sector. Many more companies and additional sectors will need to adopt apprenticeship as a grow-your-own strategy in order to affect the need for over 6 million new employees in the future.

Ivy Tech Community College’s Role

Ivy Tech’s state legislated mission is to prepare students for the workforce and/or to transfer to universities. In the last few years we have focused on the workforce portion of our mission, given Indiana’s current skills gap and low unemployment rate. To better support the workforce needs in the state, Ivy Tech has created a division of the college, Workforce Alignment, to work directly with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Commission for Higher Education (CHE), to align workforce programs both credit and non-credit to industry needs.

Schools have been organized to fit into sectors focusing on expanding and creating apprenticeship programs in manufacturing and applied sciences, information technology, construction, health science, and business and logistics. Other sectors across the country are starting new programs every week. White collar positions in banking and insurance are the newest sectors to adopt this strategy.

Blue- and white-collar apprenticeships are common in Europe having been around for as long as the model has been in place. Companies in the US are beginning to adopt the model in non-traditional sectors coming to realize that all jobs require skills that are best learned in an applied method. In Indiana apprenticeship is a viable strategy to close the skills gap for the top five sectors in the state and that is the focus of the new Workforce Alignment team. Employers must take their rightful place in the talent management pipeline developing apprenticeship programs to address their planned and projected employment needs.

Apprenticeship Benefits for all Stakeholders

The model continues to work and benefit all stakeholders across the country and around the world. Ivy Tech has provided the related training for company programs for well over 30 years, training approximately 5,000 construction trades apprentices annually and 2,000 in other sector programs. This strategy has supported the growth and economic development of the state through the success of our students and our business and industry partners.


  • Highly skilled incumbent workers trained to employer-recognized standards
  • Employer-focused talent development
  • Retention of talented workforce
  • Recruit diverse workforce
  • College credit and degree outcomes
  • Positive reputation for industry careers
  • Increased productivity


  • Higher pay
  • College credit and degree outcomes—career pathways
  • Global, portable credentials
  • Increased standard of living

State of Indiana

  • Highly skilled workforce
  • More degree credit outcomes
  • Sustainable economic growth
  • Global competitiveness
  • Increased standard of living and quality of life

Apprenticeship Myths

Other states are focused on apprenticeship growth particularly with the increased support expected from the Trump administration. States are positioning themselves to take advantage of the focus on apprenticeship with particular effort on growing youth apprenticeship referencing the German and Swiss models. As a result of the increased growth of other states, Indiana dropped in rank to one of the top five states instead of the number-one state, depending on the report referenced. Indiana has about 900 registered programs supporting 14,696 apprentices. One myth that is hindering growth in Indiana is that registered programs are all union or that having a registered program attracts union activity. In fact 85 percent of the programs in Indiana are non-union and have been for years.

Another myth is that registration is difficult and too time consuming. However, according to the DOL the process takes about an hour. The DOL currently has thousands of standards already developed fitting most positions and occupations. Ivy Tech and other community colleges across the nation has become a sponsor and can provide administrative support to companies registering programs. State and federal legislators are working to remove barriers to register programs. So the process will likely become easier.

Apprenticeships have their origins in trades and many companies struggle to apply the model to non-traditional programs. Progressive companies in other sectors are applying the model. In healthcare, programs are successful for RNs, CNAs, and LPNs. Indiana has started its first CNA program using a standard from the DOL list. Salesforce has committed to adding 500 apprentices. Those programs are also considered non-traditional. High-wage, high-demand sectors should be targets for apprenticeship expansion as those will drive the economy in Indiana and many of those positions are non-traditional apprenticeship opportunities.

Apprenticeship Can Close the Gap

Ivy Tech’s mission and strategic plan includes the growth of apprenticeship and other work-and-learn strategies to lessen the skills gap. To ensure that our workforce is the best in the country, industry must take its rightful place in the workforce supply chain and adopt apprenticeship as a talent-development, recruitment and retention strategy. Ivy Tech has developed flexible degree outcomes, aligned sectors and content with employer demand, and developed a team to provide administrative support to companies, laying the foundation to support expanding apprenticeship. Standards exist for thousands of careers, and companies have the capacity to design and customize their programs around the standards and their needs.

Indiana is no longer number one in the number of programs or apprentices, but Ivy Tech is committed to stakeholders and to their mission. Working together to grow apprenticeship is key in fulfilling the Ivy Tech mission: Changing Lives and Making Indiana Great!

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