Apprenticeship Opens Doors of Opportunity

Guest Viewpoint op-ed by Tonja Mettlach and Patrick Mitchell on

A quick glance at online job openings in several lucrative fields in Western Massachusetts shows plenty of “Help Wanted” signs. But matching those who are hiring with those who are fully trained and skilled to meet an employer’s needs can prove challenging.

Apprenticeship is a win-win for both employers and individuals who are seeking a new career or opportunity as it provides earn-while-you-learn training for precisely the skills that businesses need.

Through the collaboration of industry and the many apprenticeship programs recognized by the Massachusetts Division of Apprentice Standards, we have a tool to generate the trained workforce that Massachusetts employers need to grow and thrive. Working with Massachusetts Workforce Association members, local registered apprenticeship programs are emerging as successful pathways to grow an organization’s talent by recruiting, training, and retaining their people.

At the end of 2019, Massachusetts had 1,842 apprenticeship training programs supporting almost 3,000 employers across the state. These businesses employ 10,393 active apprentices and, between 2014 and 2019, nearly 25,000 registered apprentices were working in Massachusetts. While more than 80% of apprenticeships are in construction and the trades, Massachusetts is actively expanding the model into new industries and occupations including health care, manufacturing, and IT.

Registered apprenticeship programs are the gold standard for professional training and education. They involve both on-the-job training and classroom education, but also pay workers a livable wage during that time. This ensures that the graduate leaves with a strong foundation, a recognized credential, and a productive career in their chosen field. Above all, it provides a ticket to the middle class.

The return on investment for businesses and job seekers is also incredibly high. Research shows that apprentices have a more than $240K earning advantage over their lifetime compared to those who do not participate in an apprenticeship. Canada has found that for every dollar an employer spends on training and educating an apprentice, they get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity—a nearly 50% return.

Take for example, Baystate Health, who became involved in developing registered apprenticeships through the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board. Baystate Health recognized the multiple benefits that apprenticeship can contribute. In the short term, implementing the model provided Baystate with sustainable pathways to train new talent from the local community. In addition, existing Baystate employees were able to apprentice and upskill for jobs critical to their operation with financial incentives offered by the Commonwealth, including training cost offsets and tax credits. In the long term, Baystate expects these programs to improve employee retention and reward employees with promotional opportunities and career advancement as well as strengthening connections with the local community.

Baystate Health currently has five apprenticeship programs that are training positions in need such as pharmacy technicians, medical interpreters, and polysomnography technicians (sleep studies). They also have apprenticeships for some trade-based occupations including – heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) is an example.

Apprenticeship allows Baystate to tailor its training programs to meet its exact workforce needs while providing participants the opportunity to earn a recognized credential. Accordingly, Baystate Health has seen an increase in retention for workers entering these occupations while vacancy rates for the areas that they provide services in have plummeted. And many of the apprentices have come from their own front-line, entry-level ranks along with community-based programs. The end result is that Baystate Health is able to train its future workforce while at the same time advancing the lives—and earnings potential—of their current workforce.

In Springfield, where the 4.2% unemployment rate is slightly higher than the State’s 2.8% rate, apprenticeship can make a real difference. Apprenticeship is a go to solution for employers who have the “Help Wanted” signs out as well as those in search of a gratifying and lucrative career. It’s a win-win.

Tonja Mettlach is Executive Director, Massachusetts Workforce Association and Patrick Mitchell is Director of Apprenticeship Expansion & Work-based Learning, Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

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