Closing Skills Gaps Through Apprenticeships

There is a growing global skills shortage that is leaving American businesses vulnerable. It is a problem that cannot be solved with brilliant recruiting or generous perks. It is not a matter of finding more skilled candidates. With more than 11 million unfilled jobs in the current U. S. economy, traditional talent pools appear to be tapped out. The skills gap is a fundamental challenge that requires rethinking how you build the skills needed to thrive as well as the talent best suited to help you fill the gaps. How an employer approaches the need for building skills and creating opportunities to learn can lead to new, untapped sources of talent. One increasingly effective way to do this is to resurrect a practice popular in the Middle Ages: apprenticeship. It is the old, new way to build critical skills, close skills gaps, and open up opportunities for individuals often overlooked by traditional recruiting approaches. 

Restrictive Job Descriptions and Job Postings Limit Opportunities 

Employees tend to be happier and more engaged in their work when they have opportunities to gain experience, hone valuable skills, and achieve new levels of growth. Yet, traditional hiring practices with restrictive job descriptions continue to set absolute requirements that preclude anyone who doesn’t already have the skills, educational credentials, and certifications needed for the positions they want to fill. Pre-pandemic, we started to recognize that our tried-and-true hiring models were exposing skills gaps. This has become more apparent this past year, with Hisayuki Idekoba (CEO of Recruit Holdings Co., which runs Indeed.com and Glassdoor) declaring that we need to move away from the traditional resume-profile culture. In fact, there is a growing trend for employers to remove degree requirements from from both job descriptions and job postings to broaden the pool of applicants. A study of 51 million jobs by Harvard Business School and Burning Glass Institute found that degree requirements were eliminated from nearly one-half of middle-skill and nearly one-third of high-skill jobs over a two-year period. That led researchers to estimate that some 1.4 million jobs would open up over the next five years for candidates without college degrees.

Try a New, Yet Proven, Approach to Acquire Skills

To tackle these issues, companies can embrace entry-level, work-based learning through apprenticeship programs. Rather than stick with outdated hiring practices that fall short in addressing hiring needs, apprenticeship programs offer opportunities to discover fresh talent while building skills and support for a high level of job engagement and company loyalty. 

A growing number of companies are investing in apprenticeship programs. Based on the most current year for which data is available from the Department of Labor, in a single year, nearly 26,000 programs helped more than 636,000 apprentices learn new skills.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez suggests that “Apprenticeship is the other college–except without the debt.” Apprenticeships allow those who don’t have four-year degrees to be hired into professional roles. This, in turn, helps create a more diverse workforce, with applicants chosen for their aptitude for a position rather than arbitrary degree thresholds for jobs that do not truly require them. Creative Niche CEO Mandy Gilbert describes apprenticeships this way: “Apprenticeship programs are like mini colleges, only the company is steering the curriculum… The organization pays [students] to learn their systems, adapt their preferred skillsets, and in the end, employs a highly skilled worker.” 

Start with a Partner

It isn’t hard to build work-based learning programs, once you have the commitment to do so and the right partner. Many businesses, labor unions, and technical institutions are now turning to non-profit training providers and community-based career preparation organizations to recruit apprentices. So even if you aren’t sure about managing your own program, you can partner with your city’s employment office or local non-profits that specialize in matching businesses with qualified workers to find large numbers of motivated and interested apprenticeship candidates. This also creates more socially responsible alternatives to traditional corporate staffing practices.

How Work-Based Learning Programs Can Succeed

YUPRO, a public benefit corporation in the staffing industry, has had tremendous success providing traditionally untapped talent to many Fortune 500 companies. These firms committed to hire non-degreed talent for entry-level apprenticeship roles in cybersecurity, data analysis, and other IT roles, where degrees aren’t necessarily a proof point for success. A proven approach to building the future workforce is to offer apprentices market-based wages, comprehensive benefits, and the opportunity to learn the high-demand skills needed for a successful career.  

Economic Bonus

Data shows that apprenticeships can contribute to a strong economy. Switzerland’s post-secondary apprenticeship program has garnered the participation of 40% of its employers, and 70% of Swiss students opt-in. In turn, Switzerland’s youth unemployment rate is under 4%, where the U.S. has more than double that rate at 10.2%. Following suit will not be easy, but it is possible. The Accenture apprenticeship program is a leading model in our country. Its skills-first focus for entry-level talent is helping it expand its workforce from the ground up. 

Bridge the Experience Gap to Close the Skills Gap

Apprenticeships are not a new concept, but in their current incarnation, they can help employers reach untapped talent, focus on potential, and invest in solving their own hiring demand. An apprenticeship program is a long-term solution that can contribute to greater diversity, innovation, engagement, and profit. 

YUPRO collaborates with companies to address their entry-level and middle-skill talent demand, giving partners access to an untapped talent community at various career stages who have the technical, professional, digital, and interpersonal skills required for in-demand jobs. When we work together, the challenges of building an effective apprenticeship program fade away, leading the way for a better and more equitable experience for everyone. To learn how you can build an apprenticeship program, connect with our team at partnerwithus@yupro.com.