WNC needs more apprenticeship programs. Here’s why your company should consider one:

August 22, 2018

As WNC’s unemployment rate continues to plummet and many quality jobs remain vacant, regional leaders are working hard to develop talent and connect employers with the local workforce. One of the best ways to develop workforce? Train them yourself, advises Nathan Ramsey, Director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

“It’s like baseball and free agents,” said Ramsey, who’s helping organize an upcoming apprenticeship recognition event, September 6.

“Most companies can’t go out and pay top-dollar for the talent they need, or go recruiting around the country. They need to coach and grow their own talent from home.”

This homegrown approach to talent isn’t new. Apprenticeships have been a federally recognized program since the 1930s, with a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. And while apprenticeships have been slowly increasing in North Carolina, there’s still plenty of unrealized opportunity in this field.

“It’s a great tool to help employers meet their workforce needs,” said Ramsey. “The best way we can grow our workforce is to provide more of these training opportunities. Registered apprenticeships are the most engaged way to do so.”

Apprenticeships are especially important when it comes to technical talent that takes a long time to master. Even after formal education, most employees aren’t fully prepared to work in fields like electricity or construction without hands-on-training.

While many employers fear the cost of training apprentices is too high, ApprenticeshipNC has found that most apprentices become profitable and productive within a few months. Moreover, 91% of apprentices retain employment with the company who trained them.

“Apprenticeships give us the opportunity to teach them the Haynes way,” said Fred Lewis of MB Haynes, one of the state’s largest and longest running apprenticeship programs. “It costs more and takes more time, but we’ve had very much success with it…We’ve built relationships and retained a lot of people.”

Since 1980, the company has graduated 99 journeymen. Originally going through AB-Tech for coursework, in recent years Haynes has ramped up the program to include in-house classes taught by former apprentices.

“I would say Haynes is a stronger company because of it,” said journeyman electrician Alan Schenkel. “People definitely feel a sense of loyalty towards the company.”

Starting an apprentice program

“For those interested in starting an apprenticeship, I would recommend reaching out to me as well as your local community college,” said Shari Phelps, an apprenticeship consultant at NC Community College System (NCCCS) who oversees programs in WNC and beyond.

“Through apprenticeships, employers can reduce operational costs by establishing a streamlined channel to bring on new workers, advance existing workers, build employee loyalty, reduce attrition, and foster future leaders,” she added.

While the top three apprenticeship sectors are currently construction, advanced manufacturing, and energy, Phelps hopes to facilitate more programs in healthcare, hospitality, and information technology.

ApprenticeshipNC, an agency of NCCCS, offers assistance for both youth and adult apprenticeship programs. For the youth apprentices, the community colleges can waive tuition for any courses included in an apprenticeship. The companies that sponsor the programs provide paid on-the-job training and mentoring for both youth and adult apprentices. There are also USDOL grants that may cover certain costs for community college curriculum and continuing education courses for adult apprentices.

The Mountain Area Workforce development board also has funding streams that may support employers who have a registered apprenticeship program.

Learn more at apprenticeship event, September 6th

“First off we just want to salute and thank the organizations who are already doing these apprenticeship programs,” said Ramsey, on the upcoming apprenticeship recognition event. “We also want to tell a story and share why it’s worked for them.”

Located at Western Carolina University Instructional Park at Biltmore Park, the event is free and open to the public. Breakfast and networking starts at 8:30 a.m. and a keynote speaker/awards ceremony starts at 9 a.m. Curious employers of all backgrounds are encouraged to join.