NORFOLK, Neb. - While the apprenticeship model has been instrumental for decades, the current system applies to more than the typical occupations that often come to mind - plumbers, electricians and linemen, among others. Apprenticeships have greatly expanded in the last decade to include more non-traditional occupations in areas that include healthcare, information technology (IT), advanced manufacturing, and engineering.
The United States Department of Labor currently has 1,349 approved occupations that qualify for apprenticeships.
As National Apprenticeship Week (Nov. 8-14) gives businesses, industry, communities, and educators the opportunity to showcase their apprenticeship programs and apprentices, the state of Nebraska has been working on expanding apprenticeship programs across the state over the last several years.
In October 2018, the Nebraska Department of Education, in partnership with Northeast Community College, Wayne State College, Educational Service Unit #2, Nebraska Department of Labor, and Nebraska Department of Economic Development, received the Pathways to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) federal grant to expand youth apprenticeships in the region. The focus is to create additional IT career pathways for high school students. With a shortage of IT workers across the state, plans are being developed to determine how to fill these skills gaps.
Kimberly Andersen, youth apprenticeship coordinator at Northeast, said it begins with exposing youths at a younger age as to what a career in IT could mean for them. Careers in information technology range from cybersecurity, help desk and system administration to programming and web design. In addition, more IT jobs have been moving into the agriculture sector, specifically with more modern precision ag equipment being introduced.
Andersen said there are a multitude of apprenticeship options that youths may not even think of.
“With this grant, our mission is to match up students ages 16-24 with area businesses who desire more IT employees. This is a great opportunity for our youth to be exposed to the real world of IT while they are going to school as well as for our businesses so they are able to build a workforce pipeline to fit their needs,” she said. “It has been difficult to attract IT professionals to the area, so we need to start thinking about growing our own. The best way to do this is to work with our area businesses.”
Apprenticeship is an earn-and-learn model that is centered on involvement with business and industry.
Andersen said not all students are cut out for the traditional college model, so apprenticeship is another alternative to get young people the skills they need for high demand jobs in the area.
“By going through an apprenticeship program, students are able to apply what they learn in the classroom on the job, which can greatly help with knowledge absorption. Higher classroom engagement is also typical from apprentices as seeing real world examples sparks further questions and conversation in the classroom.”
The U.S. Department of Labor reports apprentices who complete a program could earn up to $300,000 more over their lifetime compared to individuals who only possess a high school diploma or GED®. In addition, 94% of apprentices retain employment with that employer three-years post apprenticeship completion.
So far in 2020, Nebraska has added 68 new business partners who have a Registered Apprenticeship program with 1,779 new apprentices. At the beginning of 2016, when the state started to focus on expanding apprenticeships, Nebraska had 131 programs with 1,909 apprentices. However, Andersen said there are opportunities to fill additional apprenticeship positions.
“It’s stats like this that make apprenticeship an enticing pathway for students and employers,” she said.
PHOTO ID: Students work on a project during an Information Technology Cybersecurity Summit at Northeast Community College. Apprenticeships have greatly expanded in the last decade to include more non-traditional occupations including information technology.