The new era of apprenticeships

(From left) Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Joe May, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and American Association of Community Colleges President Walter Bumphus participate in a tour Tuesday of health-care labs at El Centro College in Dallas. (Photos: Ellie Ashford)

DALLAS – The Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) took center stage Tuesday as it received a federal grant to start one of the first health-care apprenticeship programs in the country.

The grant is part of a $20 million partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) that aims to create 16,000 new apprentices across the U.S. by summer 2022. DCCCD was the first system announced to participate in the Expanding Community College Apprenticeships Initiative (ECCA). AACC soon will name the other competitively selected college consortia and individual community colleges.

The announcement was part of a series of releases this week regarding DOL grants for apprenticeships, particularly around industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs). Coupled with the grants it received under those programs, DCCCD hopes to create 50,000 apprentices by 2030 in nursing, radiology, cardiac sonography, surgical technology and other allied health specialties.

The event in Dallas – which included DCCCD Chancellor Joe May, AACC President Walter Bumphus, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, leaders from the private sector and others – comprised a roundtable discussion about apprenticeships and a tour of the health-care labs at El Centro College, which is one of the DCCCD colleges.

Closing the skills gap

During the roundtable, Acosta emphasized the administration’s focus on using apprenticeships as a job training system to help fill a nationwide skills gap.

“There are 7.4 million job openings now, but we don’t have enough qualified people to fill them,” he said.

Currently, most apprentices work in the building trades, but the new push aims to expand apprenticeships to other areas, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and information technology.

“This is going to transform education for a number of individuals,” Acosta said. “When people have access to apprenticeships, they have an opportunity to earn while they learn.”

The average salary for someone who completes an apprenticeship is almost $70,000, he said.

“It’s not just a job; it’s a career path,” Acosta said, noting that people who complete an apprenticeship and work for a while can return and complete a degree.

While unemployment is only about 3 percent in Dallas, there still are individuals on the sidelines, the secretary said. Apprenticeships can help those people engage with the workforce.

A broad partnership

DCCCD is partnering with nine employers to develop its health-care apprenticeship program, including UT Southwestern Medical Center, Methodist Health System, Children’s Health, Dallas VA Medical Center, Parkland Hospital, and the Dallas-Ft. Worth Hospital Council.

DCCCD already has an internship program with Methodist Health System. Kimberly Guerrero, a recent El Centro nursing graduate who already has a job at the hospital, said an apprenticeship would be helpful in allowing students to get work experience while completing their credentials.

During a tour of the health-care simulation lab at El Centro, Acosta saw how students train on the same equipment used in hospitals. He was particularly impressed that the surgical technician program had a 100 percent pass rate on the licensing board exam.

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta (right) chats with a health-care student at El Centro College.

Dale Woodin, vice president of the American Hospital Association, said his organization can serve as a convenor to help scale up apprenticeships across the nation.

“We need to increase our capacity, and this is the way to do it,” he said.

That’s important, Accosta said, because “one challenge with apprenticeships is that they are not as portable as they should be.”

The DCCCD apprenticeship program “allows us to ‘inject some hope’” by providing family-supporting wages, said Jennifer Bailey-Jackson of the JPS Health Network.

Apprenticeships not only help young students, but they are critical to getting adults in low-paying jobs onto a career path, said Laurie Larrea of Workforce Solutions Dallas.

“I believe this initiative with apprentices is the most important work going on in community colleges,” Acosta said, adding that it’s essential to get as many institutions as possible involved.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.