Richard Robertson of the Life in Colorado radio show, which airs on KNUS-AM, KRKS-FM, KRKS-AM, & KDMT-AM, and work skills expert Nicholas Wyman, CEO of IWSI America, discuss the rise of apprenticeships in Colorado, changing industries, Denver’s schools partnerships, the new 2020 education bills and how modern apprenticeships promise to benefit employers and prospective employees.
When Stan Best was finishing high school in the 1980s, everyone from his parents to high school guidance counselor were in agreement: he should go to college.
“I went to Virginia Tech for about a year and a half and I left before they could throw me out. I was responsible for paying for my own way,” Best said. He wasn’t getting much out of it. Then his brother encouraged him to apply for an apprenticeship at the Newport News shipyard, where workers build aircraft carriers and submarines for the military.
“It’s very pragmatic, it’s very hands-on and practical with what the student is doing down on the waterfront,” he said.
Best trained as an electrician, went on to become a nuclear reactor test engineer and eventually returned to the apprentice school to train future shipbuilders.
“To tell somebody who is going to be a blue-collar worker that, in the future, you could end up with a six-figure job,” Best said, “it’s not what they’re normally hearing in the high schools.”
Growth in apprenticeships
The number of people doing apprenticeships in the U.S. has climbed steadily in recent years. According to the Labor Department, there were more 500,000 people obtaining skills while pulling a salary in 2018.
Sponsored by employers, schools, unions and industry associations, apprenticeships are increasingly seen as a way to fill critical, skilled jobs in a tight labor market.
Compared to countries like Germany and Australia, though, the U.S. has an undeveloped apprenticeship system. And some people want to see more apprenticeship programs here.
Joseph Fuller, professor of management at Harvard Business School, said expanding apprenticeships in the U.S. will require a change of thinking.
“We have been preoccupied with a college-for-all mindset. And that is not bearing the fruit that we hoped,” he said.
Fuller said too many young people are finishing college with huge debt loads and working in jobs that don’t — or shouldn’t — require a college degree. He estimated there are currently three million job openings in the U.S. where apprenticeships would make more sense, many of them in banking, health care and technology.
Real experience, no debt
Tiffany Spraggins worked as an apprentice at Accenture in Chicago and now works as a software tester for the consulting firm.
“I didn’t even know there was a possibility for me to work in this field until I applied for the apprenticeship program and got accepted,” she said. “I didn’t have to go into debt and I didn’t have to spend so much time in school because the time that I would have spent in a traditional program, I was actually on the job getting real life skills and real life experiences.”
Apprenticeship programs like Spraggins’s aren’t just helpful for job seekers, but can help employers address one of the biggest challenges in the labor market today, said Nick Wyman, who heads the nonprofit Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation: labor market mismatch.
“Employers can’t find the people with the skills they need, yet there’s a lot of educational institutions that have been churning out people,” he said, “so there’s this labor market mismatch.”
To help close that skills gap, the Trump administration is expected to finalize a regulation soon that will create a new kind of apprenticeship,
run by businesses, schools unions and other groups.
| By Nicholas Wyman |
The shiny new toy always catches the eye. In schools, technology and STEM equipment can be a bit like that. A school might do a lot of sweating to fundraise or secure a grant to invest in tech to skill up their students for the 21st century.
But after the unboxing, chances are teaching practices won’t change much and I’m not having a “go” at educators. It’s simply because flow-on investments must be made. That is, sending teachers to professional development on how to use the tech, then harness their professional judgment about where and when to use it. Backward map from the learning outcomes plus keep updating their knowledge. Troubleshoot when problems arise. That’s a lot for a school to try to manage on their own.
If the tech can hook students into a version of citizen science, all the better. This is real-world learning. Educators, schools and districts that are outward-looking in their work can do amazing things. I love hearing about tech being used in schools to help students see a range of career options and maybe even see their schools strike up partnerships with business and industry to help nudge those kids on their way.
Partnering with Schools to Fight Cancer
One such private-public partnership has been on my radar in Kentucky. The idea was to put more technology in classrooms while supporting cancer research efforts and build a knowledge-based workforce in the throes of the state’s declining coal industry. A not-for-profit, Dataseam, was ripe for a partnership.
“Like most small states, we struggle to address priorities in education, economic development and attracting advanced research. With Dataseam we get big wins in multiple areas for the citizens of Kentucky,” said Rocky Adkins (D) then Majority Floor Leader in 2005 when the program originally received an economic development grant.
The program’s twist was having computers sitting in K-12 classrooms statewide as the processors doing the cancer research. This virtual supercomputer, the DataseamGrid, supplies multiple times the horsepower available to researchers. As a bonus, Kentucky children benefit from the latest technology boosting education opportunities. And, the grid leverages existing state networks, facilities, and staff, shrinking the cost of supporting traditional supercomputing efforts.
“Executing the technology was the easy part,” according to Dataseam CEO Brian Gupton. “Getting school districts, universities, state, government at all levels, other companies and stakeholders to execute in concert for the common good was the hard part.”
Opening Doors to New Ways of Working
The program was initially open to rural school districts in Kentucky’s coal producing areas. With these resources, Dataseam placed thousands of classroom computers across the region where schools could only afford one or two labs with 20-30 computers each. This gave students access to current technology powerful enough to support engineering, design, media and robust research projects.
Dataseam quickly introduced technical and teacher training and industry-standard certification.
“The industry certifications, professional networking and support, along with opportunities on a national level have helped this country boy from Clay County do things I could not imagine,” said Parker Smith, CIO of Williamsburg Independent Schools.
This project also challenged school technicians responsible for maintaining equipment and networks now getting more innovative and different uses.
Dataseam also launched a Department of Labor-approved paid apprentice program for students to take advantage of industry training and work alongside the school’s certified IT staff. Students work and complete online projects across technology disciplines. This helps them determine if they want to continue on this fast track to employment after graduating high school or choose a college major. Students can also compete for college scholarships from the University of Louisville and Morehead State University.
A World of Benefits
So, what’s the data-crunching about cancer those computers do? They’re doing the grunt work for the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville. Dr. John Trent and his team are using computational modeling to better identify compounds that could be transformed into potential cancer drugs. The program fits well with Kentucky, a state with some of the highest cancer rates in our country.
Using dedicated academic computing, Dr. Trent and his team investigated two-to-four cancer targets a year against a library of 100,000 small molecule compounds. Under the Dataseam plan, the university could investigate more than 30 targets a year against 37 million compounds with far more precision.
“When the DataseamGrid went online it truly changed the way we approached our research,” said Dr. John Trent, “We went from working to the limitations of our computing resources to thinking about how to attack hundreds more possibilities for potential life-saving therapies. It also enabled us to go after more challenging targets.”
This helped the university build one of the world’s largest potential cancer drug pipelines. The university also successfully competes for tens of millions of federal research dollars and leads clinical trials for innovative new treatments.
The Proof is in the Numbers
Over the last 15 years, Dataseam has given 26,000+ workstations to participating schools. Students have benefited from more than $2.2 million in college scholarships. Nearly 8,000 technicians and educators have been trained to use the tech. The state has the largest cohort of Apple systems engineers in the U.S.
The DataseamGrid continues to produce millions of dollars of processing power helping the cancer center create a pipeline of 20 potential cancer drugs in various stages of development with two reaching clinical trials. The university has attracted more than $57 million federally around this research.
“This partnership is tremendously beneficial for our region of Eastern Kentucky, offering practical instruction, mentoring and hands-on experience to students who would not otherwise have access. As well, these computer labs allow our universities to maximize research efforts into areas like cancer and drug discovery,” says Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers.
The partnership has many different stakeholders pulling in the same direction solving several problems. It seems a perfect match between consistent public policy and private innovation to maximize public assets.
Ji Suk Yi hosted the edition of the Wintrust Business Lunch on Monday, January 20th.
IWSI America CEO and founder Nicholas Wyman speaks about the importance of apprenticeships programs for adults of all ages and how they are helping today’s skilled-labor force looking for a career change. Read Nicholas “It’s Time: Using Modern Apprenticeship to Reskill America” report here.
By Nicholas Wyman – Tuesday, 14 January.
Something’s happening in the U.S. economy right now. And it’s mostly good – business expansion, low unemployment, tightening labor markets, rising stock market prices and record profit shares. But underneath all the good news is a fundamental workforce problem. Companies want to grow – they have the means and the market to grow – but they can’t find skilled workers.
That’s right – there are a lot of jobs, and a lot of people looking for jobs. But there’s a mismatch between the skills jobseekers have and skills employers need. In some cases, companies have to put off expansion plans because of this mismatch. Entire communities might find themselves unable to attract and retain businesses because of this mismatch. There’s a siren going off and we need to pay attention.
Why is this happening? One reason is that our system for developing talent is out of synch with employer needs. Workplaces are changing rapidly. New technology is eliminating a certain class of jobs – those that consist of repetitive tasks or processes. But it’s creating another class of jobs – those who maintain, manage and program new technology. In other words, people who can work with technology are in demand.
Working with technology requires a different skill set than has been traditionally taught in high school and college. More than ever, prospective workers need technical skills – they need to know how to run the machines, robots and programs that increasingly make up the modern workplace.
But there’s more to it than that. Modern workers need to be tinkerers and problem-solvers. They need to know how to ask questions, when and how to get help, how to work in teams and communicate effectively with both machines and their co-workers. This is a skill set not typically obtained with a traditional four-year college degree.
What’s the answer? For many years now, I’ve been promoting apprenticeship, and I believe now is the right time for a system of modern apprenticeship in the U.S. When I say modern apprenticeship, I mean a system that goes beyond the traditional trades (though those are still a great way to get skills that lead to well-paying jobs) and branches out to all sectors, including finance, healthcare, tech, hospitality, and green sciences. Pretty much any expanding business sector can use modern apprenticeship to get the skilled workforce it needs.
Apprenticeships have several key components that benefit both employees and employers. Employees get customized classroom and on-the-job training while earning a wage. They get guidance and feedback from workplace mentors to maximize the benefits of their on-the-job learning and experience. And those that complete the apprenticeship successfully get a nationally recognized credential (for Registered Apprenticeships) and usually some credit towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Meanwhile, employers get trained employees with skills that match the job roles they need now and in the future. Many companies have also found that apprenticeship programs increase employee loyalty, engagement and productivity (for both apprentices and their mentors). And some companies are using apprenticeships specifically to diversify their workforce – with positive effects for both the business and the community.
Apprenticeships aren’t magic. But they are a proven system for developing a skilled workforce precisely suited to employer needs. Other highly successful economies have been using an apprenticeship system for years (Switzerland, Australia, the UK). Now it’s our time. In fact, many prominent American companies are already investing in apprenticeship, including LinkedIn, Lockheed Martin, JP Morgan Chase, Amazon, Adobe and Mailchimp.
Now is the right time to start an apprenticeship program. The federal government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in apprenticeship – funds that are available to private sector employers, local and state governments and nonprofits that want to initiate or ramp up an apprenticeship program.
Forward-thinking businesses and communities will certainly take advantage of that funding, and all that apprenticeship has to offer. It’s time to become one of them.