The coronavirus pandemic has caused some community colleges and employers to temporarily suspend apprenticeship programs. Many of those programs, however, are going forward online or with accommodations to protect workers’ health.
The bulk of apprenticeship programs at the College of DuPage in Illinois are in manufacturing, and most participating companies have been essential so they are continuing to operate.
The college moved the instruction component for apprentices to a virtual format for the spring and summer terms, says Danielle Kuglin Seago, manager of COD’s Project Hire-Ed. The information session and introductory apprenticeship seminar course are now online, too.
During the initial wave of the pandemic, the college gave some apprentices in HVAC-R (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) the option to take a furlough. They are all now back at work, Kuglin Seago says.
Some of the manufacturers have slowed their workload, but when things get back to normal, they will quickly return to full capacity, she predicts.
COD is planning a hybrid option for fall courses but could easily revert to an all-online model, if necessary.
For current apprentices, the college is identifying coursework they can take during the fall without labs or minimal lab time, so their learning won’t be disrupted if the pandemic is still a factor, Kuglin Seago says.
Flexible learning plans
COD launched Project Hire-Ed this year to support COD-sponsored apprenticeship programs and serve as education partners for employer-sponsored apprenticeships. During its first year, Project Hire-Ed oversaw 14 apprentices at nine companies.
Most of the apprentices at COD are in industrial maintenance, facility maintenance, HVAC-R, welding, electromechanical technology, and computer numerical control (CNC) operations. The programs generally run two years.
Two COD apprentices started working this year at Mauser Packaging Solutions, an international company that makes large drums and containers for shipping liquids. Kuglin Seago expects the company will hire more apprentices this fall.
The company has implemented social distancing among employees and stepped up cleaning procedures. It requires face coverings and protective equipment for employees and bans employees from eating lunch with their coworkers.
Mauser pays the apprentices for a 40-hour work week, although eight of those hours are in class. Students who complete the program earn a certificate in industrial maintenance and credits that count toward an associate degree.
Pioneer Service Inc., a women-owned, minority-owned manufacturer that produces prototypes for aerospace, automotive, hydraulics and medical supply companies, is continuing to employ COD apprentices to work as CNC operators.
This fall, COD is starting an apprenticeship with a healthcare company in medical billing and coding.
“Employers need people with these skills to jump in quickly, as doctors’ offices are opening up,” Kuglin Seago says.
Programs ramping up
In North Carolina, there hasn’t been a dramatic decrease in apprenticeships due to the pandemic, says Kathryn Castelloes, director of apprenticeships for the state’s community college system. Only about 10 companies statewide furloughed apprentices, and some programs are offering the instructional component online, she says.
Despite the pandemic, the number of paid, registered apprentices in North Carolina is soaring. There are more than 11,800 apprentices, compared to 7,600 a year ago, Castelloes says. Sixty new programs were registered this month, compared to five in June 2019.
Central Piedmont Community College, which provides instruction for apprenticeships sponsored by employers, has pivoted to remote learning where possible, says Michelle Miller, executive director for corporate and workplace learning.
For technical courses with labs, CPCC follows health protocols for six-feet social distancing, masks, gloves and sanitizing. That has reduced capacity to about one-third of what it was pre-pandemic, Miller says.
It’s also been a productive time for apprenticeships in South Carolina, as companies have some downtime that they are using for planning, says Amy Firestone, vice president of Apprenticeship Carolina, a division of the South Carolina Technical College System.
Since the end of March, 21 new apprenticeship programs were established, Firestone says.
Community colleges have set up all-virtual instructional programs for apprentices this spring. Some colleges have put their programs on hold until the fall, she says.
Apprenticeships in the hospitality industry are the hardest hit. A new apprenticeship program at Horry Georgetown Technical College’s Myrtle Beach campus has been temporarily suspended, for example.
In other industries, companies have furloughed or laid off some apprentices, and will possibly rehire them in the fall, Firestone says.
“Companies are still trying to figure out a re-entry plan,” she says.
The governor of Colorado approved a waiver allowing an apprenticeship program in medical assisting involving Arapahoe Community College (ACC) and Centura Health to continue because that work is essential, says Eric Dunker, associate vice president and dean of business, technology and workforce partnerships at ACC.
ACC suspended weekly in-person labs based at the college for a couple of weeks during the pandemic. However, apprentices continued to work 32 to 40 hours a week in Centura clinic, including helping with COVID-19 testing, Dunker says. The apprentices greet patients at the front door, take their temperature, and do everything except administer the actual test.
The on-campus labs have resumed with social distancing, staggered schedules and personal protective equipment. About 75 percent of the education component is done through competency-based online courses.
The program has trained more than 60 apprentices over the past two years to work on the front lines in healthcare. Dunker expects 13 or 14 students in the spring cohort will graduate this month with a certificate in medical assisting.
Despite the pandemic and the risk to healthcare workers, Dunker says, the program is more popular than ever. Typically, the program draws about 100 applicants, but 200 people applied for the summer cohort starting in July.
He attributes that interest to several factors: “The unemployment rate is dramatically higher. People are more interested in healthcare as a viable industry, and all the stories about first responders have given the industry a renewed focus.”
He adds that “people want to get their foot in the door at Centura,” which offers many opportunities for advancement.
The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) has transformed a couple of new business-related apprenticeships to an online format, at least temporarily, until the pandemic is over.
BMCC is starting a pilot-test of an apprenticeship program developed by its parent organization, the City University of New York (CUNY), in the technology, business and financial sectors. There would be about 20 apprentices in each of those tracks.
The idea is to get students on a career path while giving them an opportunity to earn while they learn, says Mahatapa Palit, chair of business management at BMCC.
The program calls for students to start in high school, where they take a course on the world of work in the 11th grade, Palit says.
The following year, they will work with employers, such as the Bank of America or the Bank of New York. They will interact with employees in various departments, such as human resources, marketing, finance and operations. About 17 companies are participating.
The first cohort was set to start this year, but when the pandemic struck, employers shifted to teleworking.
When the students get to college, they will have a paid internship, earn college credits and take courses leading to a certification. This fall, the courses and internships will be virtual, although CUNY hasn’t decided when colleges will reopen. Employers will give the apprentices assignments they can do at home.
By the time they complete the program, the apprentices will have a strong resume, professional experience and soft skills, such as time management and teamwork – whether they are offered a permanent job at their employer or not, Palit says.
And after they graduate from BMCC, they will be able to transfer to Lehman College to work toward a bachelor’s degree.
Apprentices in insurance
BMCC is also starting a separate apprenticeship focusing on insurance in partnership with Zurich Insurance Group.
Zurich will recruit about eight BMCC students with “drive and motivation who are likely to succeed in a real job,” Palit says. Apprentices will work three days a week in a Zurich office near the college and study two days a week.
The program will be all online this fall, as Zurich employees are working remotely, too. And it could eventually expand, Palit says.
“People are reaching out. They want more diversity in their employee base and are also looking for young people interested in growing with the company,” he says.
Meanwhile, BMCC is developing a new business management associate degree with a focus on insurance, which Palit hopes will be approved by next summer.
The teleworking trend
Workforce and apprenticeship programs are adjusting to a new landscape wrought by the pandemic, including a “tremendous need for remote work” in information technology and other areas, says Sunil Gupta, dean of the Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at BMCC.
Gupta sees the growth of teleworking during the pandemic as a long-term trend.
“Employers have to figure out how to move forward,” he says, while the increased focus on social justice issues is also having an impact on the job market. “We’re at a big inflection point in workforce development, and apprenticeships can be a big part of this.”
In August, BMCC is launching a U.S. Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship program with Google and Pathstream with a cohort of 20 to 22 students. The companies will provide stipends to students, which they can use for their education costs.
Due to the pandemic, the certification course is now online, and “that may be the new mode of work down the road,” Gupta says. “Ideally, most people would agree if you’re working during a crisis, blended, hybrid learning is effective.”