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Turnkey Apprenticeships

Bakersfield College creates IT apprenticeships with state money and help from a global intermediary.

California community colleges tap state money and a global intermediary to create tech apprenticeships for local employers. Also, New America on how the two-year sector can go big on apprenticeships, and Ryan Craig’s take on making the US an “apprentice nation.”

Bakersfield, Calif. Photo by Sam Valdez on Unsplash

Making Earn-and-Learn Easy on Employers

A group of California community colleges is using state money to help cover costs for IT apprenticeships, in part to make them attractive to small employers. An intermediary group with global chops, OpenClassrooms, is handling red tape so the process is smooth for businesses and the colleges.

“We try to make it as easy as possible for the employers, to make it a plug and play,” says Sabrina Aguilar, apprenticeship program director for Bakersfield College, a two-year institution that’s playing a lead role in the new project

If the strategy in California pays off, it would be a rare on-ramp to tech jobs for lower-income workers without four-year degrees. Buy-in from local businesses is obviously a key to making that happen, and government funding is a good draw for employers.

The three community colleges that are participating in the pilot received funding through a state grant designed to spur apprenticeship opportunities in industry sectors where the earn-and-learn path is less developed, including tech. The colleges also drew funds from other state sources, including workforce development grants, as California seeks to make good on Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to create 500K apprenticeships by 2029.

The project uses the state money to cover the cost of training apprentices, so companies don’t have to, and to offset some of the apprentices’ wages. That’s huge for the local employers Bakersfield College is partnering with, Aguilar says, some of which may only employ one or two apprentices at a time.

“We just braid the funding sources,” she says, “so we can maximize the employer reimbursement.”

Bakersfield previously only managed two federally registered apprenticeship programs, for electricians and sheet metal workers. The project’s four new tech-related apprenticeships are for software developers, digital marketers, data analysts, and help desk technicians. They’re among 17 registered apprenticeship programs the college plans to offer soon.

Statewide Ambition: The California community college system is led by Sonya Christian, the chancellor, who formerly was president of Bakersfield College. Her office works closely with a state agency that offers apprenticeship wage reimbursements and other support to employers.

“The apprenticeships in the field of IT and cybersecurity are growing as the demand for these positions increases across all industries,” says Paul Feist, a spokesman for the system. “Many of these are in early stages of development, so I can see a lot of model practices and lessons learned that will come out of each of them that can be shared across colleges and replicated, including Bakersfield’s program.”

The France-based OpenClassrooms has been handling much of the back-office work to develop the new IT apprenticeships at Bakersfield and its partner colleges. The company has worked with big companies on apprenticeships, including Merck’s program in this country.

The pilot with California’s community colleges, however, is about creating an easy, turnkey program for small employers to bring in prequalified apprentices, says Pierre Dubuc, cofounder and CEO of OpenClassrooms. And he says the brands of community colleges are a big draw and confidence booster for local businesses.

Creating nontraditional tech apprenticeships at scale will require partnerships that stretch across higher education, apprenticeship intermediaries, employers, and government agencies, says Dubuc. 

“Our program with Bakersfield College is a prime example of this successful partnership model that has the potential to be replicated nationwide,” he says.

Aguilar says OpenClassrooms has helped with paperwork, curriculum development, outreach to apprenticeship candidates, and, in particular, employer engagement. Bakersfield recently hosted a meet and greet with local companies about the apprenticeship programs, which the college plans to launch early next year. 

When the employers learned about how the apprenticeships will work, including the costs that will be covered by the state, Aguilar says, “It was a bit of a mind-blown moment.”

Bakersfield is streamlining the curriculum and program registration process so that colleges across the region and the state can copy it. Aguilar says some faculty members at the college have pushed back on that strategy.

As the apprenticeships emerge, Bakersfield is committed to ensuring that participants earn college credit for what they learn and that all those credits count toward certificates and degrees. 

The Kicker: “We don’t want to limit students,” Aguilar says.

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Creating Real Apprenticeship Programs

New America just published a report on how community colleges can expand apprenticeship opportunities for their students. Through case studies and interviews with community college leaders, the think tank describes common challenges and successful strategies for two-year colleges that are looking to be apprenticeship intermediaries.

For example, the report cites the steady growth of ApprenticeshipNH, a workforce training project from the Community College System of New Hampshire. “The ApprenticeshipNH program is built on a solid foundation of collaboration with employers and support via multiple streams of grant funding,” according to New America.

Apprentice Nation: Ryan Craig says community colleges are well practiced at being apprenticeship intermediaries—and have received hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants for that work.

Yet Craig, cofounder of the nonprofit Apprenticeships for America, says two-year institutions typically are “low-intervention intermediaries,” meaning they develop a curriculum and register programs but don’t do the heavy lifting of marketing, setting up, and running apprenticeship programs for employers.

As a result, he says, “Community colleges have no track record of actually creating apprenticeship jobs.”

Just 200 “real” registered apprenticeship programs exist beyond the construction trades, according to Craig’s analysis of a federal database. He says the rest of the 6K programs outside of construction are “paper” versions—often created with federal money by community colleges or workforce boards—that don’t hire apprentices.

Craig says he was surprised to uncover this nugget while doing research for his new book, Apprentice Nation: How the “Earn and Learn” Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America. As an investor and author, Craig has long been focused on college alternatives like bootcamps. But he’s been all in on apprenticeships in recent years.

He says we should follow the lead of the U.K. and Australia, which made dramatic strides over the last decade by incentivizing intermediaries to act as apprenticeship service providers for employers.

Craig points to California as a front-runner for moving toward performance-based funding with apprenticeships. Last year the state created a fund designed to cover the cost of running a program, where intermediaries get state money for each apprentice they support and place.

Click over to Work Shift for a Q&A with Craig about his book and vision for making apprenticeships a legit thing in this country.

Who Wants CTE in High School?

States and school districts have been putting big money into expanding career and technical education and getting a more representative group of students to participate. Enrollment in CTE varies widely by race, gender, and income—but researchers have never dug into why, until now. 

A new NBER working paper looks at high school students in Michigan to better understand how both access to courses and student preferences influence who participates in CTE. It found that:

  • Higher-income students were most likely to participate in CTE—especially in well-paying fields like business management, finance, and computer programming—and inequities in access to courses explained most of the gap between those students and their lower-income peers.

  • Racial gaps, with white students more likely to participate in CTE than Black ones, were driven by differences in both access to courses and student demand.

  • Differences by gender were driven entirely by student preferences, with girls being both less likely to participate in CTE and, when they did participate, highly likely to take courses in healthcare and lower-paying fields.

“These differences in demand could reflect differences in how boys and girls have grown up to see different careers as innately more or less appealing,” says Brian A. Jacob, the paper’s lead author and a professor of education policy and economics at the University of Michigan. 

“They also may reflect the fact that for many youth it is uncomfortable to take a CTE course where they would be a gender minority,” he says.

Takeaways: This finding supports the need for national efforts, like some of those pushed by the Biden Administration, to make tech, advanced manufacturing, and the skilled trades more appealing and welcoming to women, Jacob says.

But the broader lesson, he says, is that when it comes to reducing most inequities in CTE participation, giving students easy access to courses matters. That’s a real challenge as many school districts experiment with providing CTE at centralized locations in order to reduce delivery costs.

“Offering programs can be quite expensive, so centralization makes sense from a cost perspective,” Jacob says. “But there is no substitute for having programs in students’ schools from an enrollment perspective.”

Parting Thought: Given the effort and dollars being poured into expanding CTE, why has nobody looked at student preferences before? One reason is a lack of access to good data, Jacob posits.

Also, he says, the interests of researchers tend to spring from their life experiences. 

“With that in mind,” Jacob says, “perhaps it is not surprising that many economists studied college course taking, major choice, and even selection into accelerated high school courses without considering career [and] technical education in the same way.”Elyse Ashburn

Open Tabs

AI and Jobs
Our labor market information system is “hopelessly unprepared for making good on President Biden’s call to quickly produce a report on the impacts of AI on jobs and skills, writes Brent Orrell, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He cites a recent report that argues that AI doesn’t fit the typical mold of an industry or service. A better approach, Orrell says, would be to study the impacts of AI at local and regional levels.

Hydrogen Hubs
Labor unions will play a key role in the Biden administration’s recently selected Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs, writes New America’s Shalin Jyotishi. The Department of Energy will spend $7B on the 13 hubs, which are intended to create a national network to accelerate the use of clean, affordable hydrogen. The hubs will seek to leverage the federal money to secure $40B in private investment to maintain and create jobs in the hydrogen industry.

Workforce Data
California’s Cradle-to-Career Data System has begun integrating more than 1B data points. Governor Gavin Newsom says it’s a pivotal moment for the system, which he says “will be a game-changer for improving the quality of life for millions of Californians and highlighting ways to improve opportunity in the classroom and access to the workforce.” The project links data sets from K-12 and higher education, social service, and workforce entities.

Big Gifts
Skills for Chicagoland’s Future received an unrestricted $5M gift from MacKenzie Scott and her Yield Giving philanthropy. The group focuses on increasing employment for overlooked workers in Chicago. “A gift of this magnitude will have a massive impact” on the people it serves, the group said. Scott also this week gave Jobs for the Future a $20M gift, which will anchor a $60M fundraising campaign for the nonprofit organization.

Thanks for sending your tips and story ideas. Please keep them coming. —PF