Apprenticeship programs are growing across the state to help students earn while they learn and provide employers with a stream of workers they need.
Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced awards totaling more than $11 million for 26 apprenticeship programs for occupations in agriculture, manufacturing, health care, IT, education, human services, building trades and more.
“Apprenticeships have been around since the early 1960s,” said David Sload, president and CEO, American Builders and Contractors (ABC), Keystone Chapter. “It’s been the best kept secret out there for more than 40 years.”
The federal government, he said, is channeling money to the states so, therefore; the states are now pushing the programs.
“People traditionally think of the construction trades when they think of apprenticeships, but now we are seeing new programs like culinary arts and the health industry. It’s really growing in all sectors,” Sload said.
“Throughout history, apprenticeships have been a vital and necessary part of career education in certain fields,” Wolf said. “By expanding these important programs to more occupations and industries, we are offering Pennsylvania workers opportunities to train for family-sustaining jobs while helping businesses develop a workforce that will strengthen our economy and our communities.”
The reality, Sload said, is college is not for everyone. “There are career pathways out there that encompass the whole economic landscape.”
While Sload acknowledged there is a need for college, he said apprentices can make $42,000-$48,000 a year with zero debt when they complete the course. And they are ready to work because the training is complete.
“This gives them a step up the societal ladder where they can buy a car or a house instead of paying off loans,” he said.
Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jennifer Berrier said the new funding comes at an important juncture for Pennsylvania’s workers and employers alike.
“Today, workers have the power to demand better pay, better benefits and safer working conditions. Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the pandemic depends significantly on what we do now to respond to those demands,” Berrier said.
“Workforce development is most successful when community members collaborate to develop practical solutions to collective problems,” she said. “The apprenticeship programs funded through PAsmart are precisely the types of solutions we need to meet this moment.”
“We saw a huge increase in the number of people seeking apprenticeships in 2018-19,” Sload said. “The pandemic hurt the numbers, but they are recovering well.”
Pre-apprenticeship programs are growing too. Sload said schools are more aware of the programs and are offering more career awareness to students. Those students who participate earn credit toward the apprenticeship, he said.
Joe Perpigalia, president and CEO, ABC Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, which covers Lehigh Valley, said there wasn’t much reward for school counselors to channel students to apprenticeship programs versus college for years. “Now there is much more talk about it,” he said.
“There used to be a stigma around apprenticeships,” he said. “If you didn’t go to college, you looked to the trades. But that isn’t true anymore. We need to teach math and STEM courses because trades require it.”
Sload said the number of companies offering apprenticeships is up 25% from 10 years ago. “They realize that to build a loyal workforce, they have to pay well and offer benefits and a culture that provides a career pathway,” Sload said.app
Mack Trucks, in collaboration with United Auto Workers Local 677, started the Registered Apprenticeship program in 2001 and oversees it through a Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. The facility offers Registered Apprenticeships in four skilled trades: electrical, millwright, layout, and welding. They are also working on adding a fifth occupation.
Thomas Gombos, maintenance manager at Mack Trucks Lehigh Valley Operations, said the program offers the company a way to provide both general skills training and training customized to the facility’s equipment.
“Through customized training, our apprentices build their skill sets working directly with our equipment, enabling them to become very efficient in supporting the Mack Trucks manufacturing facility as they progress through and complete the program,” he said.
The new grants, offered through L&I’s Apprenticeship and Training Office (ATO), are part of Wolf’s PA Statewide Movement for Accountability, Readiness and Training (PAsmart) framework, which is designed to better align education, workforce and economic development initiatives and funding.
In March, the administration also announced a new round of grant funding available to Pennsylvania apprenticeship programs to develop diverse talent pipelines and reach underrepresented populations within the building and construction trades. A total of $1.5 million is available, and applications are due by April 21.
The Wolf Administration established the ATO in 2016 to support and expand registered apprenticeship programs statewide. The office provides outreach, education and technical support to current and prospective apprenticeship program sponsors and apprentices.
The ATO aims to expand the apprenticeship model to non-traditional occupations and ensure apprenticeship opportunities are available to under-represented communities across the commonwealth, Wolf said.
The ATO currently supports more than 17,000 active apprentices, nearly 5,000 new apprentices and more than 1,500 active apprenticeship programs around the Commonwealth.