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Expanding the talent pipeline through European style apprenticeship programs

November 3, 2017

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

A change is coming to talent pipeline development.  Can’t find an engineer or computer analyst, for example?  Why worry about college graduates when employers can develop their own through apprenticeship programs.  Long associated with skilled trade workers, electricians, etc., the European model is coming to America.

A big issue with the university system is that many who attend do not graduate, and the needs specific to many industry jobs are not being addressed at the university level.  Further, the costs of a university education are a drain on the student.  Therefore, there exists a no win situation of unaffordable tertiary education that fails to prepare students for the jobs at hand. 

The European model is expansive and covers traditional white collar jobs.  For example, Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance asked Harper College educators (an Illinois community college) to try a Swiss-style apprenticeship program to train more claims adjusters and other workers for its Chicago-area offices. Zurich pays tuition and other expenses for each student who also get three paid days a week work at the insurance company and two days in the classroom.

In Switzerland, where 70% of teenagers participate in apprenticeships, the system provides employers with a steady stream of trained, experienced workers, said Al Crook, the Chicago-based head of human resources business partners for Zurich Insurance’s North American operations. “The U.S. was missing a piece of education and work training,” Crook said, noting that many entry-level claims adjusters had only a high school diploma before Zurich partnered with Harper College. “The Swiss model clearly changes the paradigm and says, ‘There’s value in getting some education.'”

Other employers that are starting these programs include Accenture, Aon, CVS, JPMorgan Chase, Amazon and the Hartford. Most of these programs are technology-oriented — training people for positions such as internal tech support or software programming. But they’re also training human resources analysts, insurance customer support agents, account managers and more.

Per the DOL, the average starting salary for an apprentice is around $15 per hour.

The U.S. Department of Labor has about 1,200 listed apprenticeship programs and is willing to expand.  The Trump administration is looking to add between $105 million and $200 million in additional funds to the current $95 million set aside for apprenticeships.  Although apprenticeships do not have to register with the DOL, if they do, various monies and other support may be available for the program.  However, there are certain requirements such as affirmative action and pay increases that will be required. The affirmative action requirement, added by the Obama Administration, may be a turnoff to registering the program. 
White collar apprenticeships haven’t gained traction in the years because many lack connection to a union.  Also, the apprenticeship image is of blue collar, not white collar, and that could be a turnoff for some.  Finally, many European countries subsidize the programs to make them more palatable and feasible to employers.

However, a  survey by New America found that 88% of Americans had a favorable view of apprenticeship, and 83% said they support increased government funding for them. “To see such strong support across both Democrats and Republicans was something everyone was surprised by,” said Brent Parton, deputy director of the Center on Education and Skills at the think tank New America.

Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture North America, says that in order for apprenticeships to grow, there will need to be more coordinated programs with community colleges, more support for nonprofits, and more incentives — such as tax credits or direct investment. “You don’t want this to be a pet project of large-company CEOs.”

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