Manufacturing apprenticeships making a comeback in the US

With the skills gap widening, the U.S. government is making an investment to resurrect apprenticeship programs.

Now that the Great Recession seems to be behind us and the economy is slowly getting back on track, a number of industries are once again looking to hire new talent. Seeing that we are in the midst of spring, after a long winter, manufacturing recruiters have likely spent several months sourcing for qualified individuals who can fill a number of openings. However, many recruiters have already discovered that the talent pool may be somewhat thin.

During the recession, many seasoned manufacturing professionals found themselves out of work. While some elected to retire, others pursued opportunities in completely different industries. This has created a skills gap in the sector. Recruiters have probably encountered a number of candidates with strong potential, but not enough practical experience to be considered for an opportunity, either on a contract or permanent basis.

However, the manufacturing sector is trying to rectify this issue and groom the next generation of workers in the industry. This is one of the reasons apprenticeships are making a strong comeback.

"An apprenticeship is the 'other four-year degree,'" Thomas Perez, who serves as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, said in a Department of Labor press release. "It is a tried and true job training strategy that offers a reliable path to the middle class, with no debt."

In December, the DOL pledged $100 million in grants to fund apprenticeship programs in a variety of areas, including information technology, health care, biotechnology and manufacturing. The end goal of this initiative is to bolster the labor forces in these areas, many of which have dwindled as a result of the recession.

A brief overview of U.S. apprenticeship programs
At one point in time, individuals who elected not to attend college after graduating high school could choose to be an apprentice and learn a skilled trade. However, technology advancements spurred by automation eliminated the need for these kinds of training programs. As a result, the sheer number of apprenticeships has declined for that last 50 years.

According to a Trib Total Media report, citing data from the Department of Labor, there has been a 48 percent decline in the number of registered apprenticeship programs in the U.S. over the last 14 years. Part of the reason for this is that skilled trades became unappealing to students who were encouraged to attend college and pursue a professional career.

In 2011, a study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute revealed that 67 percent of the companies polled stated that there was a severe shortage of qualified workers, with many expecting the situation to get worse before improvements would be seen.

However, it seems that apprenticeships are being resurrected as a way to combat this and close the skills gap that exists in manufacturing, as well as provide the industry with a younger and more technically savvy workforce.

"The skill shortage is getting more and more acute every day," Craig Freedman, president of Freedman Seating, a company that makes seats for vehicles, told the Chicago Tribune.

The newspaper wrote that while Germany has 1.8 million apprenticeship programs in operation, the U.S. only has approximately 375,000. The Department of Labor is hoping the $100 million allocated for the creation of new programs will double the number of registered apprenticeships that exist in this country.

Manufacturing recruiters would be wise to take a look at any programs in their area and use them as a sourcing pool for talent. With the industrial sector in the U.S. making a comeback, the most savvy of recruiters will need to develop outside-the-box strategies to be successful in their efforts. 

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