Rolling up the sleeves for apprenticeships

(From left) AACC President Walter Bumphus; Mary Graham, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College; and Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College. (Photo: Adam Auel)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is moving forward with its game plan to create 16,000 new apprenticeships over three years in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

The four strands of activities to develop the Expanding Community College Apprenticeships (ECCA) initiative include: discussions around definitions; ensuring that participating colleges are providing clear information to students and employers about apprenticeships; providing technical support to colleges selected to participate in the $20 million partnership with DOL; and working with industry partners.

AACC President Walter Bumphus noted that ECCA will dovetail with other AACC programs, including workforce development, in general, and the association’s career pathways program.

“It has to be aligned if it’s going to make a difference,” Bumphus said.

He also noted AACC’s developing Unfinished Business initiative, which will look at student success in terms of equity for all students. The effort will include a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., over the next few months to hear from member colleges about their challenges in this area as well as their successes. The association will hold the second meeting later this month.

“We’re going to be laser-focused on closing the achievement gaps and equity gaps, and trying to prepare out graduates to earn family-sustaining wages,” Bumphus said.

Groundwork for apprenticeships

The ECCA initiative, as well as the increasing use of apprenticeships in general in the community college sector, was the centerpiece of a session at the AACC annual convention. It also highlighted several promising practices across the U.S. as college leaders look to meet the goals for ECCA.

“The idea is not just to train individuals directly but also to build a framework for a national system that’s never been done before,” said Jennifer Worth, AACC’s senior vice president for workforce and economic development.

The first strand of the initiative will focus on definitions, Worth said. The definition and requirements for formal, federally recognized registered apprenticeships are well known, but other workforce-related activities, such as internships and cooperative agreements, could also come under the umbrella of apprenticeships, she said.

“We believe you all currently are doing apprenticeships, you’re just not necessarily calling it that,” she told community college leaders.

A 55-member task force created by AACC, which met for the first time at the AACC convention, will tackle that, among other tasks.

The second strand focuses on developing a consistent message around apprenticeships. Some community colleges have clear, robust information publicly available about their apprenticeship programs, while others have little, if any, information on their programs, Worth said. The idea is to ensure information is consistent and available across participating colleges, she said. AACC will identify five to 10 components of apprenticeships that will serve as a framework for colleges.

The third strand will address direct technical support. To reach the bulk of the 16,000 new apprenticeships, AACC will select 80 locations to participate in ECCA, with each one creating 150 apprenticeships over three years, Worth said.

The final strand relies on industry partners to create apprenticeships. AACC will soon announce four major companies that will create 1,000 apprenticeships each to reach the 16,000 goal, Worth said.

Models from the field

Attendees of the session heard from leaders of Austin Community College (ACC) in Texas, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Harper College in Illinois and the Dallas County Community College District. For ACC, which serves an area that has a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, the goal is to raise skills, wages and productivity. Over the next five years, the college aims to educate and train 10,000 people who live in poverty so they can earn a living wage, said President Richard Rhodes.

“That’s a big commitment and undertaking for us,” he said.

But ACC already has a framework internally through efforts such as guided pathways and externally through partnerships with companies such as Samsung. The relationship started when the college asked the company to serve on its program advisory committee, especially in advanced manufacturing. That resulted in $7 million of contract training for Samsung over five years, specifically in advanced manufacturing, robotics and electronics, Rhodes said.

The college also is looking toward the future. ACC and Samsung joined to open a P-tech program at a local high school focused on advanced manufacturing. The company provides mentors for the students, job shadowing opportunities and paid internships, as well as an opportunity to work for Samsung. The college also has created pre-apprenticeship programs, which currently serves 35 low-income students.

Close communications

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has well-regarded maritime apprenticeship programs that serve local industry. Faculty members meet with companies several times a year to ensure that the college’s programming is current and relevant, said President Mary Graham. But she noted that it’s important understand from the beginning what companies expect as well as their commitment.

“it’s important to have deep and crucial conversations with the industries you’re trying to serve,” she said.

That’s a point emphasized by Rebecca Lake, dean of workforce and economic development at Harper College, which has experience in developing registered apprenticeships in nontraditional industries, such as insurance. Lake provided tips on how to start successful apprenticeships, which include finding faculty that want to participate in apprenticeship efforts as well as a champion of the effort who will be persistent.

She also recommended hiring a team, even if they are part-time workers, who can canvass the community and talk directly with companies about apprenticeships. If there is skepticism about apprenticeships, she recommended creating a pilot program to test how it could work.

When asked if labor unions — which are traditionally associated with registered apprenticeships — are pushing back against community colleges providing such training, Lake said that hasn’t been her experience. It works as long as colleges are having transparent conversations with companies and unions, which often provide mentors for such apprenticeships.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.