Unemployment rates have reached records lows across many states, including Iowa (2.4%), Missouri (3.1%), Texas (3.7%), South Carolina (3.3%), and New Hampshire (2.4%).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the ratio of unemployed workers to available jobs hovers at a record low, with 0.9 workers for every job vacancy.

Due to the low unemployment rates, and the robust economy, the U.S. manufacturing industry is facing a potential 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, according to the latest skills gap report from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte.

Manufacturers can’t find enough job candidates with the right skills and work ethic to fill openings. Indeed, 51% of executives surveyed said “maintaining or increasing production levels to satisfy growing customer demand as the biggest challenge arising from not filling open jobs in the next three years.”

The other challenge facing manufacturers is the changing nature of the skills required.

With the introduction of advanced technology and automation, “the types of skills employees need to possess are rapidly evolving” — leaving manufacturers and technical schools scrambling.

It can take an average 93 days to fill open positions requiring skilled production workers (welders, machining, etc.). In 2015, it took 70 days.

To address the workforce shortage challenge, manufacturers are employing various tactics, everything from the tried and true such as “Help Wanted” signs and newspaper ads, to the more extreme, such as hiring prison inmates.

At meetings and events where manufacturers discuss their workforce challenges, one tactic for finding skilled labor is rarely discussed: Apprenticeships.

A growing Department of Labor Initiative

Spanning more than 1,000 occupations, apprenticeships are a collaborative effort between the Department of Labor, workforce intermediaries, educational institutions, community partners, the public workforce system, and the workers themselves.

Since January 2017, 404,000 people have become apprentices, in industries that include advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, cybersecurity, energy, and hospitality.

Through the Apprenticeship program, workers earn while they learn. An apprenticeship combines on-the-job training at the employer’s facility with education through a job-related technical program (usually offered at a technical school or community college).

Fulfilling the requirements of the apprenticeship results in the worker receiving an industry-recognized credential. According to the DOL, workers completing the program earn an average starting wage of $60,000.

The benefits of using the Apprenticeship program to hire and train workers are many, including allowing employers to build a skilled workforce while receiving tax benefits and lowering turnover.

Training for all types of workers

Apprenticeships aren’t just for younger workers coming out of high school or community college. The program seeks to provide training and relevant skills to a wide cross-section of workers, including:

  • Military veterans (retired or transitioning)
  • Displaced workers (e.g. coal miners)
  • Disadvantaged workers
  • Under-employed or non-employed workers
  • Students in high school or college

The program is open to all sizes and types of companies

You don’t have to be a large company to participate in the Apprenticeship program. If you have open positions, and are struggling to find skilled candidates, taking advantage of the Apprenticeship program can help.

Your first step is to contact one of your state’s workforce development programs. You can also contact your local or regional technical school or community college to see if they have an apprenticeship program you can tap into.

In New Hampshire where I live, for example, the state has a number of workforce partners including the Learn! Apprenticeship program, the NH Sector Partnership Initiative, and WorkReady NH, to name a few.

Many apprenticeship program partners are quite proactive. The NH community college system applied for and won a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the state’s program. The state now has 3,000 active apprenticeships and due to the grant, has added 1,000 in 2018 alone.

According to what I learned attending a recognition program sponsored by Learn!, New Hampshire manufacturers large and small are taking advantage of the program, including companies such as Cobham Aerospace, Hypertherm, EPTAM Plastics, and EFI.

To learn more about the DOL’s Apprenticeship program, and your state’s participation, visit the Department of Labor website or the newly created website. Both websites feature a wealth of information, including fact sheets, toolkits, data, and success stories.

Apprenticeship Resources

Department of Labor — Program information — A new DOL website
Apprenticeships for high school students — Information and guide
For employers — Start an Apprenticeship program
Apprenticeships for Advanced Manufacturing — High demand occupations
Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium — A listing of college members