Apprenticeships were again in the spotlight during a House hearing that examined earn-and-learn opportunities.
The House Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee on Wednesday heard from companies and programs that use the apprenticeship model to train workers for open positions. While some lawmakers focused on the distinctions between federally registered and nonregistered programs, the invited speakers emphasized that all types of high-quality training programs — including workforce development programs at community colleges — are needed to fill workforce gaps.
Tapping all those models will be especially crucial in meeting the workforce needs should President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal come to fruition.
Highlighted in the hearing was the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a partnership of regional manufacturers that use career pathway, apprenticeship-style education programs to create a pipeline of skilled workers. Stacey Johnson Hughes, of Logan Aluminum who serves as KY FAME state chair, highlighted the program’s flexibility in meeting employer’s workforce needs.
Launched in 2009 by Toyota with a handful of manufacturers, KY FAME started with an advanced manufacturing technician associate degree program that it developed with a local community college. Today, more than 200 companies in the state participate. This fall, 650 students will enroll in KY FAME programs, which include entry-level production, tool and tie, manufacturing-focused engineering and business bachelor’s degrees, Johnson Hughes said.
Healthcare, IT and financial industries have expressed interest in duplicating the model, which has been adopted in Texas, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama, she added.
Johnson Hughes noted that when Logan Aluminum joined KY FAME in 2014, it worked with a local technical college on designing curriculum to fit the company’s needs. That kind of flexibility is essential for participating companies.
“We have that kind of relationship and can sit down with the school and make changes if the technology changes or things need to be added to a class,” she said.
Same goal, different paths
Several Democrats on the subcommittee queried whether nonregistered apprenticeships offered the same quality training as nonregistered programs. They also noted that the president’s proposal to nix federal funding for apprenticeship programs is at odds with his recently signed executive order to place more emphasize on apprenticeships to help employers find skilled workers.
Republicans, meanwhile, asked whether overly burdensome requirements to participate in registered apprenticeship programs were preventing more companies from joining.
Registered apprenticeships, associate-degree programs and other programs are essentially the same, Johnson Hughes said.
“I don’t think there is much distinction,” she said, noting education and job experience are what most employers look for in workers.
Mike Bennett, vice president of the construction company Cianbro, said all their programs — registered and nonregistered, as well as other workforce development programs — incorporate high-quality, rigorous training because their customers demand high-quality work. He gave kudos to House efforts to reauthorize Perkins Act career and technical education programs.
Newport News Shipbuilding also incorporates various workforce development pathways for its employees, from running its own apprenticeship program that includes earning college credits, to partnerships with local community colleges and universities for training in specific fields. It also taps the Manufacturing Skills Institute, which includes Virginia’s community colleges, to train workers.
“Community colleges are equipped to offer the classes that are associated with the Skills Institute, perform the assessment and then award varying levels of manufacturing skills certificates,” said Rob Hogan, vice president of manufacturing and material distribution at the Newport News-based company.
Responding to a question regarding how to get more support from business and industry for apprenticeships, Bennett and Johnson Hughes both emphasized that building strong relationships and lines of communications between businesses and colleges is integral.