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Employer Engagement: Creating A Successful Apprenticeship Program

The EvoLLLution | Employer Engagement: Creating A Successful Apprenticeship Program
Informing all stakeholders on the process behind an apprenticeship can prove great results for both the learner and employer.

There are too many jobs and not enough workers, so how do we close the gap? There’s a general perception of apprenticeships as being a lengthy and unrewarding processes, especially for employers. If that’s true, then why are apprenticeship programs showing good success rates? Dabney S. Community College is looking beyond the negative judgment to show the great benefits apprenticeships can provide. John Rainone discusses what it takes to run a successful apprenticeship program, where to keep focus and how to maintain strong relationships with employers.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do colleges benefit from running successful apprenticeship programs?

John Rainone (JR): Apprenticeships are a win-win-win tool.  For the individual, an apprenticeship is a chance to explore a field and be introduced to the knowledge and skills needed for success within it—all while being paid. For employers, apprenticeships demonstrate a commitment to workforce development, both short- and long-term. For participating colleges, the benefits are numerous.


The institution’s role in instruction-related work shows employers and communities that the college is committed to the area’s workforce needs.

Always relevant

The college sends a message to apprentices that learning is a part of their career pathway that will always be relevant.

An example for future learners

The apprenticeship may involve an individual who never expected to have any experience with higher education. Their taking part in college education and training is a plus for their resume and confidence as well as having them serve as a positive model for their peers.

Evo: How is Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) able to keep up with the high demands from the labor market?

JR: Constant collaboration with workforce boards, employment offices, local governments, economic developers, public schools and employers are the key to keeping abreast of current and emerging workforce needs.  Our local program advisory committees play an important role in helping us tie academic skills and skills together so our students will end up gaining employability skills. It is important that open lines of communication are sustained and that the DSLCC does not become involved only in times of problems or emergencies.

Evo: What does it take to establish and maintain strong partnerships with local businesses that facilitate impactful apprenticeship programming?

JR: DSLCC works with each area employer in ways that make the most sense for them and maintains minimal disruptions to their operation.  For example, some employers want the college to participate in employer benefit fairs. Others want a display or presentation in an employee break room.  Some very proactive employers committed to in-house development may want to offer employees on-site courses or individualized assessments to allow each person to map out a pathway that aligns with their respective goals. It may be time-consuming at first, but these initiatives will increase employee satisfaction and job retention.  Overall, the college must demonstrate that it is committed to the needs of each employer—large and small.  The apprenticeship model is an excellent way to work with employers in depth.

Evo: What does the future look like for your apprentice programs?

JR: Apprenticeships are not always perceived to be a positive solution due to long-held beliefs that they are a burden for the employer and not worth the time and trouble for the student to participate.  DSLCC has attempted to demonstrate why the interest in apprenticeship is surging as a way to address the lack of skilled workers experienced in nearly every sector.  If the college does its job, word of mouth will have more and more employers asking about apprenticeships.  DSLCC was fortunate to receive a three-year apprenticeship grant from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to help us grow our efforts.  The time to promote apprenticeships is right now, with employers lamenting the number of openings that they cannot fill and the large number of pending retirements looming over their heads.

Evo: What lessons or advice would you share with other college leaders looking to launch apprenticeship programs of their own?

JR: The best piece of advice would be to start slowly and select a willing employer.  Take every appropriate step and be sure that the employer AND the apprentices know the process, the expectations and the rewards.

As the process proceeds, market the program to the community and reach out to other employers who may want to replicate it and customize it for their needs.  Start with dual enrollment in high schools and career and technical education centers.  At that level, students can be exposed to various positions and start to see the direct correlation between their classes and local employment.  This observation can help reduce the number of graduates who leave school and take their knowledge and skill sets with them to apply to other companies.

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