Grant Helping Oklahoma Expand Apprenticeship Programs

Many myths and misconceptions surround apprenticeships in the workplace. Among them: apprenticeships are geared only for those not planning to attend college; or that apprenticeships are only for the construction trades or that all apprenticeships are unionized. But thanks to a $200,000 grant to the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development, the benefits and advantages of apprenticeships are now taking center stage. The grant, awarded by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), focuses on promoting, expanding and diversifying Registered Apprenticeship (RA) opportunities regarding both employers and participants.

While many people may understand apprenticeships and internships, RA programs are unique in that they are governed by the USDOL and are more rigorous and include meeting requirements for on-the-job training as well as a classroom component. One of the major advantages of RA programs is that they are automatically considered eligible training providers enabling Oklahomans to be eligible to receive Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds.

A special emphasis of the grant will be on expanding RA programs within the state’s wealth-generating economic system which includes such industries as aerospace and defense; agriculture and biosciences; energy; information and financial services and transportation and distribution. RA programs are “win-win-win” propositions for all parties involved: the apprentices, employers as well as the state’s economy.

Apprentices are employees earning a paycheck while learning a trade. While wages may start at about 50 percent of their eventual pay, their pay level increases as they advance through the program. Upon completion of the program, wages can increase substantially. The USDOL projects that those who complete an RA program earn an average starting salary of approximately $50,000. In addition, many apprentices can earn college credit for their coursework and on-the-job training.

For the bigger picture, also according to the USDOL, workers who complete apprenticeship programs may earn $300,000 more over a lifetime than their peers who don’t.

Vikki Dearing, Employer Workforce Services Coordinator in the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development, cites the attractiveness of the RA program as “earn as they learn.”

“The goal is to assist in training participants while they are employed (and earning a paycheck) while helping employers expand their businesses with skilled workers,” she explained.

Natalie Shirley, Oklahoma Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, in a commentary published in the Tulsa World, explained that the time is right to expand such opportunities for Oklahomans.

“The state is facing a critical gap between the skills of the current workforce and the skills that are needed to fill vital jobs. By 2025, our data indicates 70 percent of the state’s jobs will require some sort of degree, certificate or credential. In 2016, only 46 percent of Oklahoma’s workforce had such education and training.”

Shirley is confident that apprenticeship training can assist in closing that 23 percent gap. Employers with apprenticeship programs win thanks to  higher productivity and increased knowledge transfer from the on-the-job training aspect, lower levels of employee turnover, and a stable and  predictable supply of qualified workers.

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