(This column originally appeared in The Inquirer)
If you’re a small-business owner, it’s worth your time to consider hiring an apprentice.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor — which is celebrating National Apprenticeship Week this week — apprentices “are instrumental in re-building our economy, advancing racial and gender equity, building a pipeline to good quality jobs, and supporting underserved communities.”
But it’s not just that. Hiring an apprentice can be a great source for talent during a tight labor market. If you do it the right way and with the right organization, you can also get help paying for these workers.
An apprentice is generally someone who is learning a trade or other skill and will likely work for period of time at lower wages while they gather experience. In Pennsylvania, there are a number of ways for both prospective apprentices and employers to share opportunities. It’s usually best to work directly with an organization that’s already working through Pennsylvania’s dedicated Apprenticeship and Training Office. This office helps nonprofit and training organizations develop registered apprenticeship programs with the goal of creating a more skilled workforce and helping workers find jobs and employers find workers.
Dan Kuba, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for workforce development, says apprenticeship programs have been growing fast since the state took over their administration from the federal government in 2016.
“Our office now provides the resources, the guidance, the support and then we walk through the employers and the schools who are interested in a specific occupation about what’s needed to make the apprenticeship model,” he said.
Learning beyond the trades
When most people think of apprentices, they think of tradespeople, like welders, plumbers and pipe fitters and that’s certainly true. But today’s apprentices go well beyond these occupations.
For example, Carlos Aponte — the founder and executive director of We Love Philly — a nonprofit that targets underserved youth and provides them with education and professional skills, says that his organization recently received certification to provide digital marketing apprenticeship programs, where he currently has more than 20 students enrolled.
“Some of our students come to us to fulfill their high school graduation requirements,” he said. “We have employer-partners who then hire our graduates and then benefit by getting a certified worker that’s been fully trained in skills like Google ads, e-commerce websites, social media platforms and other forms of online marketing.” Aponte says that his digital marketing apprenticeship program has 16 core competencies that also include training in popular sales and marketing applications like Salesforce and HubSpot.
One of Drexel University’s Business Development and Workforce Initiatives offers a state approved apprenticeship program for cyber cybersecurity support technicians, a fast-growing industry. Robert Grimmie, the program’s assistant director, says he felt it was important to register their program with the state for credibility.
“The state has an apprenticeship review board, and they asked a lot of rigorous and valuable questions about our program,” he said. “We wanted to take advantage of all the resources the state offers so that we can provide the highest quality program, as well as getting connected to potential funding opportunities.”
Benefits of apprenticeship programs
For workers, the benefits are many. An approved apprenticeship program has gone through rigorous standards established by the state to ensure high levels of training in multiple industries as well as providing a safe and equal opportunity environment in which to learn skills and gain employment through participating companies.
But there are plenty of benefits for employers too.
For companies — big and small — working with an approved apprentice provider not only ensures access to skilled workers but also the ability to participate in certain funding programs which can significantly lower compensation costs. Companies like We Love Philly and organizations like Drexel’s can help their employer-partners gain access to state funding through programs under the Pennsylvania’s Workforce Innovation Act, which can underwrite the cost of tuition, books, and other fees for apprentices.
“Some of our apprentices get $16 an hour for the first 500 hours they work and our employer-partners only pay $8 because the state covers the rest,” he said. “So they’re getting a skilled, full-time employee for only $8 per hour.”
Other state funding resources include the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, where employers can receive a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring certain eligible workers; and the PA Smart Industry Partnership grant program which provide funds eligible companies to help expand their workforce. The state also provides workforce development grants to train all employees.
To find apprenticeship programs registered with the state, search the PA CareerLink.
“These apprenticeship programs cannot only help employers find the right person to fill a position but also to make it attractive for individuals wanting to get into those companies,” Kuba said. “And that provides opportunities for everyone.”