A Look Inside Oklahoma’s Apprenticeship Programs

Often thought of as an older form of workforce training, modern-day apprenticeship programs are a great opportunity for companies to develop a pipeline of talent for a skilled trade. Apprentices are employees who study an occupation or skilled trade through planned, managed, on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. This “earn as you learn” model connects job seekers looking to learn new skills with employers looking for qualified, specifically-trained workers to grow their businesses and is utilized by a range of Oklahoma companies.

There are 103 registered apprenticeship (RA) programs in Oklahoma. RA programs are operated under the supervision of the US Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship (DOL/OA) which serves as a liaison between employers, educational institutions, the public workforce system and other key community organizations. DOL/OA provides technical assistance for the formation of the on-the-job work processes and the related technical instruction and guides the partners through the steps of developing the program.

Apprenticeships play an important role in Oklahoma Works, Governor Fallin’s workforce initiative which aims to close the state’s skills gap and spur wealth generation among Oklahomans.

Oklahoma was recently awarded a grant to identify ways to create, expand and diversify RAs in other high demand occupations within the state’s wealth-generating key industries: Aerospace and Defense; Agriculture and Biosciences; Energy; Information and Financial Services; and, Transportation and Distribution, as well as the complementary industries which help to expand wealth in Oklahoma’s economy: construction, health care, education and creative industries.

The state will use the grant to explore new opportunities to expand apprenticeship programs in these key areas said Erin Risley-Baird, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development.

“Nearly half of the state’s identified critical occupations can be filled by some type of on-the-job-training,” said Risley-Baird. “We hope to expand apprenticeship programs in a way that fits the jobs and industries we have in Oklahoma.”

One of many successful RA programs in Oklahoma is at Quad/Graphics. Quad/Graphics is a large scale printer with a modern mega plant (over 1 million square feet) in Oklahoma City with 700 employees. Worldwide, Quad/Graphics reported $4.7 billion in annual sales, 22,500 employees and 60 manufacturing facilities. The company’s RA programs are part of what help them succeed as a business but also help to better the lives of the people that work there.

“Quad/Graphics current RA program began in 2002 … Apprenticeship programs have become our best source of talent acquisition for the industrial skilled trades jobs. These are the skilled jobs that Quad and every advanced manufacturing company need but cannot find qualified candidates to fill,” said Nate Butt, Apprentice Director, for Quad/Graphics. “In some Quad locations, apprentice graduates make up 75% of the electrical or mechanical staff.”

Quad/Graphics Oklahoma launched their apprenticeship program in 2014. They’ve used community college and CareerTech programs as pre-training and many students from those programs can even come in with a couple years into the apprenticeship program.

“The CareerTech system offers a wide variety of education and training opportunities for students to enter into apprenticeships and get a jump-start on their careers,” said Marcie Mack, state director of Oklahoma CareerTech. “Our mission is to help individuals and companies advance their goals. Quad/Graphics’ apprentices attend Moore Norman Technology Center for the classroom portion of their training. This is just one way we can partner with business and industry to meet the demands of the workforce.”

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