Grand Blanc View

Apprenticeships: Good for businesses, potential employees and communities



For years in Flint and Genesee County, apprenticeships have been most prominently associated with our region’s deep and storied history in the automotive industry. That’s because keeping the local General Motors’ plants humming 24/7 over three shifts required a bevy of electricians, pipefitters, millwrights, tinsmiths, toolmakers and machine-repair people – known collectively as “skilled trades.”

The route to becoming a journeyman (i.e., experienced and trained) tradesperson is through the completion of a U.S. Department of Labor-designated registered apprenticeship program, which includes on-the-job training under the careful guidance of a journeyman, trade-specific coursework and certifications. In all, most apprenticeships require 8,000 hours, or four years, of on-the-job training, which is comparable to a four-year college degree.

But unlike college students studying a major, apprentices earn while they learn. Moreover, most have jobs upon completion of their programs, usually with the companies that sponsored them.

It is a win-win solution for the apprentice and employer. As college tuition costs — and debt loads — continue to rise, conversations about preparing for life after high school have changed. Meanwhile, with talent shortages affecting large swaths of the labor market, more employers are turning to the tried-and-true method of apprenticeships to meet their needs for skilled and qualified technicians.

According to Wanda Bigelow, apprenticeship manager at GST (Genesee, Shiawassee, Thumb) Michigan Works!, there has been a definite increase in the number of employers that want to start these programs. Increasingly, employers see it as a way to invest in their workforce, Bigelow added.

Moreover, it is not simply the traditional occupations in the construction or automotive industries that are expanding their talent recruitment efforts with the use of apprenticeship programs. The practice has also found a home in “nontraditional” industries like health care, transportation, advanced manufacturing and IT, as detailed in the July-August issue of AND, the business magazine published by the Flint & Genesee Group.

Eight months ago, McLaren Health Care Corp.’s Clinical Engineering Services started an apprenticeship program, developed by the Association for Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, to complement the department’s standard practice of hiring only those with associate degrees for the entry-level openings. The reasons are outlined by Samantha Jacques, vice president in charge of McLaren Clinical Engineering Services, in the article titled “Apprenticeship programs helping to fill the talent pipeline.”

According to Jacques, an apprenticeship program offers a practical solution to filling the shortage of qualified job candidates, especially in medical fields. The traditional techniques used to recruit talent for some positions is no longer sufficient, she added.

For employers, investing in their workforces through the use of innovative practices, like an apprenticeship program, offers more than just a way to find talent. According to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships also improve productivity while increasing employee retention and reducing turnover costs, adding to the bottom line. Potential employees stand to benefit from learning valuable industry-specific skills and growth opportunities.

More businesses should consider supporting apprenticeship programs. Not only are apprenticeships good for our community but by closing the skills gap, it helps companies grow and compete in a global economy.

Tim Herman is CEO of the Flint & Genesee Group.