Believe it or not, apprenticeship programs began in the construction industry about 75 years ago. Yet, many construction industry companies—small or large—do not offer apprenticeships.

That could be a costly mistake in terms of employee turnover, productivity, and not having qualified workers who keep projects on timeline. An apprenticeship program (AP) can help you recruit all levels of tradeswomen and tradesmen who have the potential to grow with your company. If you’re not convinced, take a look at how construction businesses in Pittsburgh are solving their worker shortage with apprentices.

Another great example of an intensive on-the-job training program is Tradeswork, which was founded by the Mosby Building Arts out of St. Louis. There are numerous resources available to help any size company customize and develop an in-house apprenticeship program.

Before developing an AP program, you might consider serving as a college practicum or internship site for students at local schools. This could help you better clarify your needs, learn how to evaluate apprentices, and structure your in-house program accordingly.

The structure of these programs will largely be dictated by the student’s educational goals and program requirements. However, you’ll be expected to have a formal program description to support student goals; decide if interns will be paid or unpaid; and demonstrate how your program helps the student prepare for his or her career.

If you’re ready to consider an AP program, the Quick-Start Toolkit from Apprenticeship USA (PDF) provides strategies to create a registered apprenticeship program. It describes different models for an AP and helps you identify what may be the best fit for your business needs.

One of the key steps in the process is partnering with key players in your geographic area. This could include administrators from colleges, trade schools, high schools; leadership at educational foundations and local boards; local unions; trade worker professional associations and other building industry associations.

When you decide to create an in-house AP, you will need to register it for a national occupation credential with the Department of Labor. The apprenticeship credentialing process consists of five core components:

  • Direct business involvement
  • On-the-job training
  • Related instruction
  • Rewards for skill gains
  • Registration of your program.

There are few different ways to register your AP; these are outlined in the Quick-Start Toolkit. Another resource is Key Capacities of Construction Pre-Apprenticeship Program from the Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Initiative.

A pre-apprenticeship program most commonly refers to workforce development programs that prepare people—particularly low-income individuals, women and minorities—to enter the construction trades. While the term pre-apprenticeship connotes that the goal of these programs is to connect participants to a registered AP, that may be just one of several goals of a pre-AP.

The aim of a Pre-apprenticeship program is to teach skills that a worker needs to qualify for apprenticeship, but the job opportunities available to program graduates will vary by labor market, aptitudes and interests, and other factors. Pre-apprenticeship programs strive to match graduates to the best available opportunity for which they are qualified and therefore may connect graduates to a range of entry points and job opportunities in the construction sector.

The Key Capacities document goes into a bit more detail on economic and employment variables, and the role Pre-AP and AP programs play in building up the construction workforce and the benefits for businesses that develop a program.

One last resource, Construct Connect, provides data as well as general information about how apprenticeships play a vital role in supplying the construction industry with skilled laborers. Construct Connect’s mission is to provide industry professionals with the most complete, accurate, and actionable preconstruction data empowering them to make the connections that drive higher profits and fuel greater success for their business.

The data Construct Connect provides on apprenticeship programs can help you understand the risks and benefits of launching a program—with emphasis on planning for those risks (e.g., identifying candidates most suitable for a specific type of AP; developing a program that best prepares candidates for the realities of construction work).

To develop an AP program that actually solves problems your businesses faces, the key is to do your homework; assign a key employee to oversee the development of the program (and perhaps a team of 3-4 individuals to support their work, depending on the size of your organization and its needs); identify and study successful AP programs; and build a resource network in your locality to launch and promote your program.

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