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10 Things to Consider When Building an Apprenticeship Program

Written by Ellen Zhang on November 17, 2021
5 min read

So you’re thinking about starting an apprenticeship program at your organization? Building an apprenticeship program from the ground up is no easy feat but apprenticeships can be extremely beneficial to your organization. Apprentices are already integrated into your company culture and community, and generally stay longer, boosting your employee retention rate. Because you’ve invested time and money into their training, apprentices have also acquired the necessary skills to be successful in their roles.

Now that you’ve decided to reap the benefits of an apprenticeship program by starting one, here are 10 things to keep in mind as you build your apprenticeship program:

1. What are your apprenticeship program goals?

The first step to creating a successful apprenticeship program is to understand what your program goals are. Are you using apprenticeships to:

  • Build a qualified talent pipeline for your organization
  • Provide industry training to emerging talent
  • Improve DEI in your company/industry?

These are just a few examples of program goals that you might have. How you execute your program might differ depending on the goal or goals. For example, if your goal is to use an apprenticeship program to improve DEI, you’ll want to focus your apprentice recruitment efforts on hiring diverse talent and working with organizations like YUPRO, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), hispanic serving institutions (HSIs), community colleges, and trade schools. 

2. Are you going to build your apprenticeship program from scratch or join an existing program?

Building your apprenticeship program from scratch allows you to have the flexibility and customization to shape your program the way you want to. There are successful frameworks and existing programs you can model yours off of; however, there is still a lot of legwork that goes into it. 

You could also choose to partner with an existing program. There are intermediaries with established apprenticeship programs that work with employers and partner organizations. In this case, the program operations will be managed by the intermediary, but the apprentices will work for you. You’ll be able to launch your program quicker but you’ll have less control over it.

3. What is your budget for an apprenticeship program?

Apprenticeship programs can be expensive, especially at first when you’re learning the ins and outs of running one. Make sure you have a budget in place before you launch your program, and keep in mind that programs typically run for at least one year and if not longer. You’ll need to factor in: wages (apprentices must be paid), training, supervision costs, administrative costs, benefits, materials, etc. Your budget for an apprenticeship program will help you decide if you’ll build a program from scratch or partner with an intermediary, how many apprentices you’re going to hire, and what their pay will be (at least industry standards). 

The great news is there’s a lot of money flowing into apprenticeship programs right now. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded over $80 million in grants to expand registered apprenticeship programs. Currently, state governments are also offering incentives and there are various grants available to help support your program costs.

4. Who will be overseeing your apprenticeship program?

Some organizations hire specifically for an apprenticeship program manager; this is especially true if the program is large and robust. Other times, if an apprenticeship program is specific to one department (e.g. a software engineering apprenticeship), the program manager might just be an employee in that department, likely manager+ level title.

Whoever will be managing the program needs to be equipped with the proper resources and assemble other colleagues that will help them execute the apprenticeship program. Make sure this person understands how to build a team and is an organized project manager. They should be excited about this program and aligned with the goals.

5. Should you build a registered apprenticeship program (RAP) or an industry-recognized apprenticeship program (IRAP)?

Before you even start building your program, you need to decide if you want it to be a registered apprenticeship program or an industry-recognized apprenticeship program. A registered apprenticeship program (RAP) is a proven apprenticeship model and is validated by the Department of Labor (DOL) or a State Apprenticeship Agency recognized by the DOL. Industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAP) are validated by a DOL recognized Standards Recognition Entity but are a more customizable model of apprenticeship.

The DOL has put together a comparison chart of the two types of programs based on five components: pay, on-the-job learning, classroom learning, mentorship & supervision, and credentials. Take a look at some of the key differences between the two and decide what makes sense for your organization.

6. What type of apprentices do you need, and how will you source and recruit them?

Determine the level of experience your apprentices should have. Programs can cater to a wide range of people: high schoolers, college students, postgraduate students, working professionals, and more.

If you work with an intermediary, they will likely help source apprentice candidates for you. If you’re running your own program, you’ll need to post your own jobs and recruit. If you’re working with high school apprentices, you can partner with local high schools; there are even high schools with trade programs. To recruit college and postgraduate students, you can host in-person and virtual university recruiting events and create formal partnerships with universities. For working professionals, you can approach professional and industry organizations and host networking events. Whatever level of professional you’re looking for, you should make sure you’re recruiting from diverse sources. You should also keep in mind your company branding and think about how you want to market the apprenticeship program.

7. How will you incorporate classroom learning into your apprenticeship program?

Classroom learning is required for a RAP and may or may not be required for an IRAP depending on your industry. Either way, best practice is to build it into your program. Classroom learning can be either external (high school, community college, e-learning provider, trade school, etc) or internal, but it needs to be related to the focus of the apprenticeship. 

You’ll want to make sure the classroom learning component teaches them theory applicable to their roles, fills in knowledge gaps, and complements the on-the-job training.

8. How will you design the on-the-job training?

On-the-job training takes theory and provides real-world experience so your apprentices can learn by doing. Under close supervision, apprentices will acquire the practical skills they need to launch their careers and work independently. 

You will need to come up with a written training plan, also known as a work process schedule (WPS), that you provide to the apprentice prior to them starting. The training plan should outline the competencies they will gain over the course of the program and the types of work that map to the competencies as well as how many hours of training and education go into each. The Department of Labor has sample WPS documents that you can use as a framework for your apprenticeship program. Make sure you also include training that is forward-thinking to prepare them for continued success in their career.

9. How will you build in structured mentorship?

One of the most important components of an apprenticeship program, or any talent development program for that matter, is mentorship. An apprenticeship program must incorporate structured mentorship, which means there should be goals, a regular cadence of mentoring sessions, accountability, and guidelines. For RAPs, it’s highly recommended that there be one apprentice to one mentor, although exceptions can be made; for IRAPs, there’s no set ratio.

10. How will you measure the success of your apprenticeship program?

The metrics you track to understand your program success should align with your overall goals. If your goal is to build a qualified talent pipeline into your organization, metrics like program completion rate, apprentice to full-time conversion rate, and apprentice to full-time retention rate compared to average employee retention rate are important to assess. If DEI is a main priority, you should be looking at demographics of apprentices, inclusion survey data, and demographics of apprentices hired full-time. Determine what metrics you want to track, study any existing benchmarks, set goals, and measure often. 

Apprenticeship programs are a great way to open up the workforce, provide equitable job opportunities, and build a steady talent pipeline. While these ten considerations are just the tip of the iceberg, they will help guide you through some key questions to ask yourself as you begin planning out your apprenticeship program.

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Ellen Zhang

Ellen is the Chief Marketing Officer at Symba. Prior to Symba, Ellen worked in the cybersecurity industry, marketing data loss prevention (DLP) and cyber insurance solutions. She graduated from Boston College with a degree focused on Marketing and Information Systems.

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