A Deep Dive into Apprenticeship

Last week I had the privilege of serving as one of two representatives from the Wisconsin Technical College System to participate in the Wisconsin Apprenticeship Summit.  This conference was sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in Racine.  About 40 industry executives, workforce and education leaders, and apprenticeship policy makers gathered for three days to review, discuss, and make recommendations for the future of Wisconsin’s 104-year-old apprenticeship system.

The Governor kicked off this summit along with Roger Dower, president of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread; Reggie Newson, secretary of the WI Department of Workforce Development; John Ladd, administrator in the Office of Apprenticeship at the US Department of Labor; and Karen Morgan, director of the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards for the WI DWD.  The summit focused on the key issue of ensuring that Wisconsin has the skilled workforce it needs, with an emphasis on how apprenticeship serves as one of the key solutions for building this pipeline of future workers.

We had the opportunity to hear from national and international speakers that allowed us to compare Wisconsin’s model and results in apprenticeship with other states and other countries.  Frankly, I didn’t see another model in that mix that produced more impressive results than the Wisconsin apprenticeship model, other than the rather limited number of people we are preparing through this delivery model.  There are examples of other countries and other states with higher numbers of apprentices per the populace.  And really, this is our greatest challenge in Wisconsin….how to get more people into these skilled trades to ensure that we have the skills and talent needed for our workforce.

Today, there are about 11,000 registered apprentices statewide, and we serve about 1,000 of them right here at Fox Valley Technical College in collaboration with our many partners in this work.  One half of the state’s apprentices are in the construction trades, 30% in service occupations, and 20% are industrial apprentices.  Just over 2,400 Wisconsin employers have apprentices within their workforce.  This work-based training model involves approximately 90% on-the-job training and 10% related instruction, most of which occurs through the technical colleges, and many apprenticeships will span 4-5 years in duration.  I’ve always felt that the apprenticeship model produces some of the most highly-skilled and highly-paid careers in our economy…and skillsets that are absolutely essential in our workforce such as plumbers, millwrights, electricians, steamfitters, operating engineers, pipefitters, machinists, and more.

The summit participants identified some key strategies for improving and expanding apprenticeship in the state, and more will be done to fine tune those proposed efforts.  The key, however, will be to do more to make both employers and individuals aware of apprenticeship as a proven model for preparing highly skilled employees.  A new video on apprenticeship from the employer perspective was shown at the summit, and I’ve included it here for your viewing.  Have a look.

The summit at Wingspread was a wonderful experience and we focused on a very important topic for Wisconsin’s future.  How familiar are you with the opportunities through apprenticeships?  And how might we do a better job in expanding awareness of this educational model?

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