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The Value of Apprenticeships for Small Businesses

June 17, 2024

Every business owner knows the drill: hiring is hard. This rings especially true in the trades, where finding skilled labor feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.

At Springfield Commercial Roofing, our journey to attract the right talent has not only been exhaustive but inventive. From creative billboard campaigns to boosting job board postings, we’ve left no stone unturned in our recruitment efforts. Despite our best attempts, the uniqueness of commercial roofing has often been overshadowed by the likes of higher education and more mainstream career paths—much like many of the trades.

About five years ago, this predicament led Springfield to a pivotal moment in transitioning from traditional hiring strategies—a hiring headache in which we simply couldn’t find any relief. Springfield partnered with Northwest Michigan Works, a beacon for businesses across the state seeking to recruit and retain a solid workforce. This collaboration marked the inception of Michigan’s (and the nations!) first commercial roofing apprenticeship program.

Recognized by the United States Department of Labor, this apprenticeship program is designed as a five-level system, where apprentices begin at level one and can work their way to foreman by level five. Specific tasks and skill sets are associated at each level and completed at the apprentice’s pace. Importantly, compensation is aligned with each level mastered, ensuring a fair and motivating pathway to professional growth.

This article not only shares an innovative approach to recruitment and retention but serves as a compelling case for why businesses should consider establishing an apprentice program.

Value and Benefits of Apprenticeships

The advantage of apprenticeships lies in creating a symbiotic relationship between employees and the employers. When implemented effectively, they align the growth and skill advancement of employees with the business’s profitability, leading to enhanced efficiency and consequently, increased profitability. Beyond this mutually beneficial partnership, there are many advantages for the employees and employers respectively.

From a Candidate’s Perspectives
  • Paid Education. One of the biggest selling points of an apprenticeship program is that it is a paid program. Unlike having to take out a high-interest education-related loan, or pay dues to be a part of something, apprentices are typically paid throughout their training.
  • Universal Skill Set. The good thing about apprenticeships is they offer value beyond a particular industry or trade. Many skill sets learned through apprenticeships can be applied to several settings, and more importantly, can be used anywhere in the United States. For example, a Springfield employee, who has been with the company for over 15 years, started his career in residential trades and after two years of commercial training, he is now a foreman!
  • Maintain an Active Lifestyle. It is no secret that trade work can be demanding on your body. Thankfully, there have been many tools developed to alleviate these pains. Coupled with these tools, apprenticeships and careers in the trades are a fantastic way to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle—rather than being sedentary.
  • Apprenticeship accreditation makes candidates feel empowered. The truth is the field needs employees more than employees need the field. Depending on an apprentice’s willingness to learn, compensation will follow and increase as the skill set increases.
From a Business Owner’s Perspective
  • Build a Foundation of Good People. Apprenticeship programs help build a committed workforce by allowing businesses to identify and nurture dedicated talent. This process effectively filters out those less suited, enabling business owners to focus on growing individuals who are genuinely engaged and motived.
  • Employee Retention. Investing in an employee’s professional growth can translate into building a stronger, more committed team, reducing turnover rates. Apprenticeships can foster a sense of loyalty and belonging among workers as they develop their skill within a company.
  • Perceived Size. By having a formal apprenticeship program, your organization displays a level of organizational and professional maturity that shows you are building for the future.

Common Misconceptions

Apprentice Programs Take Too Much Work

There is a common misconception that apprentice programs can be laborious and resource-intensive, often overshadowing a vital truth: your team already harbors the knowledge and expertise—it just might not be documented.

At Springfield, our venture into formalizing a program revealed the challenge of capturing tribal knowledge within our team. While a seemingly large task, it fostered an environment for innovation. The team documented our processes and enhanced our work- force development approach, paving the way for continuous improvement and growth.

Additionally, there are many resources and materials already  available in your industry; they just may need to be tailored to fit your business needs. Reach out to your vendors, partners and network to see what exists so that you do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Apprenticeships Take Too Long to Complete

It’s crucial to manage expectations regarding the pace of progression through an apprentice program. Typically, there is no deadline to complete the program and allows for the apprentice to transition through levels at their own pace. The challenge is ensuring that an apprentice doesn’t get too comfortable at a certain level and is not progressing.

Transparency and communication about the program’s duration helps set realistic goals and movement through the program. It’s important to establish a series of mini goals, making the journey more manageable and rewarding. This approach not only clarifies the commitment needed but also helps apprentices celebrate incremental achievements, keeping motivation high throughout the program.

Where to Begin

Establishing any formal program can seem like a daunting task. When you are looking to attract talent and get job seekers to consider your business, it can seem even scarier.

Steps to Get Started:
  1. Define your goals and needs. In this process, you will want to identify any skill gaps that are hard to find and work to establish them in the program. These goals and needs should directly correlate with your long-term business goals.
  2. Research regulations in your trade or industry. Not only do business owners have specific skill sets and requirements they look for in recruiting and training, but apprenticeship programs are also subject to national and local regulations. Look into industry associations and legal entities representing your industry and determine what jurisdiction your program might fall under.
  3. Develop the framework. First, determine who is spearheading the apprenticeship on the leadership team. Ideally, this team member should have gone through the program (even if not formalized) and serve as a mentor to future apprentices. Then, determine the structure of the apprenticeship. This might include on-the-job training technical certifications or instruction, and the duration. It should be clearly defined what skill sets and competencies apprentices should complete by the end of the program.
  4. Partner with Resources. Once you feel comfortable with your framework, reach out to your local Michigan Works liaison. They will review your program, help you find and fill the gaps in relation to federal requirements and assist in the completion of the necessary paperwork. Additionally, they can help you find grants and other funding sources to help support your program.
  5. Launch Your Program. Once you’ve implemented your program, kick it off internally for current employees and externally for new candidates. Regularly assess the program for its overall effectiveness. Be prepared to adjust based on feedback. Do not forget to recognize apprentices as they complete sections of the program.

Establishing apprenticeships and other related programs will identify and separate employers who are serious about retention and growing their workforce. Corporations nationwide have been mastering higher education reimbursement for decades. It is time for small businesses and the trades to follow suit.


By Nick Jacqmain, CEO and President of Springfield Commercial Roofing and Transport; originally published in SBAM’s May/June 2024 issue of FOCUS magazine

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