Durable Skills

Could intermediaries be the key to making apprenticeships take off?

A new group picks up steam in its push for funding of intermediaries that help set up and run apprenticeships. Also, an employer-backed project on “durable” skills, which could boost skills-based hiring, and a key Democrat budges on the fight over for-profits accessing Pell Grants for short-term programs.

Bringing Apprenticeships to Market

Apprenticeships are all the rage, with bipartisan support and growing corporate interest. Yet public funding for paid, on-the-job training that leads to careers is still small.

It’s not clear where policymakers should spend more to support apprenticeships. Germany and Switzerland, for example, ground their approach in K-12 and higher education, a natural target for funding. But that’s not happening in the U.S., experts say, at least not quickly.

“Everybody wants to do it,” says Mary Alice McCarthy, the founder and senior director of the Center on Education & Labor at New America. “Where do you put the money?”

A recently created nonprofit policy group, Apprenticeships for America, says it has a solution: more public support for apprenticeship intermediaries, which help set up and run the programs. Examples include Apprenti, CareerWise, Multiverse, OpenClassrooms, and Year Up, as well as community colleges. They can be nonprofits, for-profits, or public institutions.

Intermediaries are the “entity that is going to be able to recruit the apprentices, recruit the employers, and stitch it all together,” says McCarthy. “That costs a lot of money.”

These organizations can also register apprenticeship programs with the U.S. Department of Labor, a balky process but one many experts say adds a confidence-inducing layer of quality assurance. They also often are the employer of record while apprentices develop their skills and the productivity that companies want.

The U.K. and several other countries have a history of backing intermediaries. But in the U.S., the organizations have lacked the funding and political momentum to reach a meaningful scale, says Apprenticeships for America. The group has built a coalition that, observers say, includes the players needed to get a legit movement rolling. It also this month announced new funding from five foundations, including the Walton Family Foundation and Schmidt Futures.

Jennifer Carlson, Apprenti’s founder and executive director, is a member of Apprenticeships for America’s advisory council. She describes the group as a consortium of 80 apprenticeship-delivery organizations across industries.

Noting that most Americans do not hold college degrees, Carlson says the combo of “targeted classwork with hands-on training” through apprenticeship “allows for people with nontraditional work skills to find an alternate pathway into high-demand, high-wage roles.”

As California Goes

A new state funding source in California is a model for the sort of public support sought by Apprenticeships for America—formula-based funding that rewards the creation of registered apprenticeships.

Created in 2022, California’s Apprenticeship Innovation Funding will receive $175M from the state over three years. It’s part of a broader plan to meet the goal set by Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, to create slots for 500K apprentices in the state by 2029.

The new money is designed to cover the cost of running an apprenticeship program, including the recruitment, support, and job placement of participants. Intermediaries will receive $3,500 annually per active apprentice, as well as a $1K bonus for each apprentice that completes.

The training incentive in California is more generous than what’s found in most states, says Rachel Hirsch, vice president of state strategies and policy relations at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Annual tax credits of $1K per apprentice are more common.

Yet Hirsch says, “Financial incentives aren’t enough to solve the problem.” Getting more businesses to the table will be crucial to making apprenticeships take off in this country, she says. For that to happen, Hirsch says companies will need to see the programs as part of their “business growth strategy.”

Trident Technical College, a two-year institution located in South Carolina, is a well-established apprenticeship intermediary.

The college offers youth apprenticeships in partnership with local K-12 schools. Trident Tech’s apprenticeship programs stretch across 10 industries, including culinary, automotive, HVAC, and IT. The most popular option is for certified nursing assistants, with 50 current apprentices.

“The employers have skin in the game” and are paying the salaries and providing mentors to apprentices, says Melissa Stowasser, assistant vice president of community partnerships at the college. “They are committed.”

More state and federal funding would help the college to offer additional slots for students, she says, and to do more to help them succeed. For example, while a state scholarship covers some of the tuition fees for youth apprentices who are dually enrolled in high school and college, the apprentices and their families have to pay for most of those costs.

Stowasser hopes Apprenticeships for America will help policymakers understand what intermediary organizations do to help run apprenticeship programs, particularly in rural areas. For her that once meant delivering meals to the home of a youth apprentice who had taken in his three younger sisters.

The Kicker: “They don’t see the small, boots-on-the-ground intermediaries,” she says.

Elyse Ashburn contributed reporting to this article.

For-Profits and Workforce Pell

A new Democratic proposal to open up federal Pell Grants to short-term programs would allow some for-profit college programs to be eligible, potentially clearing a long-standing hurdle for so-called Workforce Pell.

However, the bill from Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would prohibit fully online programs from being eligible.

The bill’s language was not available Wednesday. But a source with direct knowledge of the proposal confirmed that some for-profits would be eligible.

In a fact sheet, Scott pointed to several quality-assurance guardrails in the proposal, including requirements that completers earn more than a high school graduate in their state and see a pay bump of at least 20%. Programs also would need to spend at least half their tuition revenue on instruction.

House Republicans unveiled their latest Workforce Pell bill earlier this year, followed shortly by a bipartisan proposal in the Senate. The American Association of Community Colleges recently published a side-by-side analysis of the two bills.

The proposals from Scott and House Republicans both would require 70% completion and job-placement rates. The Republican bill also features an earnings test for eligibility.

Left-leaning advocates no doubt will be unhappy about Scott budging on for-profits. The decision to nix fully online programs, however, might help make the bill more palatable to Democrats. But that prohibition has drawn criticism from higher education and other advocates, with some arguing it would limit access for students who need flexibility.

Durable Skills

Campaigns to boost skills-based hiring—such as OneTen’s hiring pledge and Opportunity@Work’s nationwide PSAs—have drummed up a lot of attention. Five states and many big employers have promised to look beyond four-year degrees as they screen job candidates. But can they make good on those promises?

One of the biggest barriers is how to determine the abilities of jobseekers, particularly their nontechnical skills. America Succeeds, a Colorado-based nonprofit that straddles business and education policy, is working on a solution it thinks can go a long way toward making skills-based hiring a reality.

The group has partnered with CompTIA and the Common Group to develop a common lexicon for “durable” skills—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, leadership, and so on. The project includes a focus on employer needs and builds on an analysis Lightcast and America Succeeds conducted on 80M U.S. jobs postings.

Durable skills account for seven of the top 10 most in-demand skills, says Tim Taylor, co-founder and president of America Succeeds.

“We often refer to them as the second rung on the career ladder,” he says. “If you don’t have these skills, you’re very likely to lose your job early on.”

Amazon, Discover Card, Johnson & Johnson, Leidos, and other companies helped develop the durable skills rubric. America Succeeds is about to take it on the road to seek feedback from business organizations and other groups. CompTIA also is conducting an online survey.

“We want to make sure we got this right,” Taylor says. “If this turns out to be a barrier to entry and a way to screen again, we’ve done it poorly.”

The next step for the project is for CompTIA to develop an assessment, which could be used in skills-based hiring. The plan is to move quickly.

Work Shift published a Q&A with Taylor on the project, which is looking for partners from education and elsewhere. (You can write to him here.)

The Kicker: “The time really is now to do this work,” says Taylor. “We wish we’d started earlier.”

Open Tabs

Skills-Based Hiring
Most HR software vendors do not include digital credentials and skills data in their products in any systematic way, in part because that is not yet a top priority for their business customers. That finding is from new in-depth research by Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy. Change may be coming, however, as companies push for more capabilities around skills-based hiring.

Campus Childcare
A new project seeks to help community college students with childcare while offering free early learning to children on two-year campuses. The partnership between the Association of Community College Trustees and the National Head Start Association will increase slots for free on-campus Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It’s funded through a grant from the ECMC Foundation and the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation.

Competency-Based Education
Calbright College enrolled 2,077 students this week, up from 481 students in July 2021. The public institution in California offers working learners tuition-free, online, and competency-based certificates. It has faced pressure from state lawmakers, in part because of a slow start. But the college pointed to its seven-year startup period, which began in October 2019. So far Calbright has awarded 226 certificates.

Digital Skills
Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science has partnered with Wiley to offer certificates designed for roles in technology, business, and banking. Graduates of the company’s Wiley Edge, a staffing division that hires and trains employees for companies, will be eligible for the new certificates. The partnership is designed to address talent shortages in tech and gaps in digital skills more broadly.

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