Before the pandemic, the world of work focused on the skills gaps and what it took to attract and retain the right workers. Upskilling and reskilling candidates across industries were often benefits employers offered to engage candidates. Today, the apprenticeship model, which involves an education component and mentorship as well as on-the-job training and experience, is making a comeback — and it’s no longer just for the trades.

Organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to attract talent, both contingent and traditional workers. Even with remote work taking off, their is a dearth of talent and companies are looking at different ways to get talent into their organizations. Recent graduates of education systems and training programs may be available but can lack the hands-on experience and specific skillsets needed by the hiring entity. Therefore, many firms are finding a “grow-your-own” approach to be a good tactic.

“Apprenticeship has gone through a bit of a revival of late,” says Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation, which works with companies to custom develop workforce solutions and employment training programs. “If we went back five or 10 years, apprenticeship was pretty much for the building and construction industries. But now there’s a lot more companies looking at different ways they can bring people into their organizations. And even post-Covid, apprenticeships offer a really sensible solution.”

Roles suited for apprentices now include automotive service and repair, healthcare tech, pharmaceutical, telecom and more.

“It’s viable in a broad range of industries and occupations — from cybersecurity, healthcare and data analytics through advanced manufacturing,” Wyman says.

Government assistance. With a typical duration is one to two years, an apprentice program requires a commitment on the part of the organization; however, there are government programs to assist.

For instance, through its Youth Apprenticeship Intermediary Project, the Urban Institute and its partners will connect schools, colleges, employers, workforce development organizations and other stakeholders to increase the quality and quantity of registered youth apprenticeships. It also provides modest funding to help employers offset the training costs of a Registered Apprenticeship program;

In addition, the US Department of Labor announced last month the availability of $150 million in the H-1B One Workforce Grant Program to invest in training for middle- to high-skilled H-1B occupations within key sectors in the US economy — including information technology and cyber security, advanced manufacturing and transportation — to upskill current workers and train new ones.

“The coronavirus pandemic has not only caused disruptions in the labor market, but also forced many education and training providers and employers to rethink how to deliver training,” the DOL stated. “In this grant program, the Department’s Employment and Training Administration set out to streamline funding and resources to encourage a more integrated workforce system that will encourage applicants to provide an innovative mix of training strategies, leveraging innovative modes of training delivery, including online, distance and other technology-enabled learning.”

Grants will range from $500,000 to $10 million and the closing date for applications is Nov. 12.

Through local public/private partnerships, grantees will deploy training toward employment in middle- to high-skilled H-1B occupations within key industry sectors. Training models will include a range of classroom and on-the-job training, customized training, incumbent worker training, Registered Apprenticeship Programs and Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs.

Raytheon’s program.The US Department of Labor oversees both the Registered Apprenticeship Programs and Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs, or IRAP. This month it named Raytheon Technologies as the first formally recognized IRAP; The National Institute of Metalworking Skills, or NIMS, serves as the Standards Recognition Entity overseeing Raytheon’s program. More information about the 18 qualified Standards Recognition Entities is available online.

“We believe that growing this critical workforce through our industry-recognized apprenticeship program benefits our company, the community and the national industrial supply base, and may in turn draw other applicants with these skills or the desire to learn these skills to our company,” Allen Couture, VP of operations at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business, told SIA.

The operations function of Raytheon’s business oversees the program in partnership with human resources. It also partners with local community colleges, including Dallas College, for the classroom portion of the program.

Developed in 2018, Raytheon’s 10-month apprenticeship program focuses on manual machining and numerical control machining skills. It has had two cohorts to date: school year 2018-2019 featured seven apprentices while school year 2019-2020 had four apprentices. A third cohort with five people was planned for this past spring but delayed until next year due to Covid-19. Of the 11 apprentices who have entered its program, Raytheon Technologies has retained 10 who currently work as full-time machinists at Raytheon Technologies Precision Manufacturing, located in Dallas.

Mentorship and coaching in an important but often challenging part of a program. Couture noted one initial challenge was gauging the number of mentors needed to work with the apprentices when they were on our shop floor so that they could gain the necessary skills.

“Our solution was to divide and conquer,” Couture said. “Instead of assigning one person to a mentor with a specific expertise, we distributed several mentors throughout the shop. This allowed us to rotate our apprentices so that they could get exposure to different machines and areas of our factory.”

The right time? Is the timing right for the apprentice model? Wyman says companies that invest in skills now are going to be at the forefront of driving economic recovery post-pandemic. “There will be some opportunities coming out of this unprecedented economic upheaval,” he says.

Education-only programs are turning out grads for programs that are popular, but not always what is needed, he explains. But because an employer is not going to create a job that doesn’t exist— they are employing someone because they have a skills need — apprentice programs really get a lot closer to the heart of connecting educators to the employers.

“I think that is why there is a sort of resurgence in one of the western world’s oldest form of learning,” Wyman said. “In these uncertain times, it offers businesses the security of knowing their employees will receive workplace-related training to develop cutting-edge industry skills. I describe it as a uniquely adaptable skills development model.”

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 8 through Nov. 14. The labor department’s Office of Apprenticeship has more information for employers online.