The Trump administration is pushing to expand apprenticeships, last year issuing an executive order to provide more apprenticeship opportunities nationwide and assembling a taskforce to develop a foundation for future growth.
Training a new generation of workers will match them with millions of available jobs, bridging a lingering skills disparity that has left many positions unfilled, supporters say. In recent years, apprenticeships have even started evolving beyond traditional construction programs into industries including IT, insurance, healthcare and banking. Community colleges are already hotbeds of workforce development, working to connect with companies on a variety of job training programs, offering nationally recognized credentials that apprentices can build on to further their knowledge and education.
American Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Walter Bumphus, who represented two-year colleges on Trump’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, says the apprenticeship model is central to satisfying the widespread demand for talented workers.
“We have a chance to be the gateway to the middle class for many of our students,” Bumphus says. “Students can get an associate or bachelor’s degree, but a credential of market value can also take them to a well-paying job. That’s been the role of community colleges for a long time.”
Getting an early start
Some institutions are introducing apprenticeship programs to students as they finish high school. Vance-Granville Community College (VGCC) signed six high-schoolers to the North Carolina Triangle Apprenticeship Program (NCTAP) with a concentration on mechatronics.
The students are now apprentices with three area companies — Dill Air Controls Products, Revlon Inc. and Glen Raven Inc. — as they finish high school and earn associate degrees at either VGCC or Wake Technical Community College.
Per U.S. Department of Labor guidelines, the new apprentices will undergo 8,000 hours of training, gaining on-the-job equipment skills and mentoring while earning college credits toward a degree. Following graduation, participants will have further opportunities for workforce learning on the path to a journeyman’s credential.
VGCC hosts the curriculum portion of the training in its mechatronics lab, qualifying learners for employment in industrial maintenance and manufacturing in areas such as assembly, testing and repair. High school students join NCTAP the summer before their senior year, taking two pre-apprenticeship classes to qualify for the full four-year program.
College officials like Kenneth Wilson, a project manager for VGCC’s TechHire program, reach out to prospective mechatronics apprentices with assistance from high school career technical education directors.
“These students are already interested in automation and electronics, and there’s no shortage of need in either pursuit,” Wilson says. “A couple of our NCTAP partners are looking for their next managers and supervisors. Top salaries in those areas can be six figures, depending on the company.”
Establishing industry relationships means reaching out to company decision-makers and evaluating their needs. While numerous North Carolina firms are seeking apprentices in mechatronics and other areas — VGCC has two adult apprentices in its HVAC program and is in talks with industry partners to form a welding apprenticeship — the challenge comes in setting parameters for companies insisting on veteran-level production from new workers.
“Students coming through our welding program may be expected to hit the ground running with individuals who have been with the company for years,” Wilson says. “We tell companies that we were all young once, and started jobs where we couldn’t keep up. People learn on the job and it’s going to take years to become an experienced professional.”