Apprenticeship: Engaging Businesses Where They Are | Maher & Maher
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Apprenticeship: Engaging Businesses Where They Are

by Gerald P. Ghazi, J.D.

Beekeeping.  Cloud Operations Specialist.  Certified Nursing Assistant.  Hotel Manager.  Aerospace Engineer.  What do these all have in common?  They are all apprenticeships.  More businesses in more industry sectors are starting to think about apprenticeship as a talent development solution.  Apprenticeship is a flexible, cost-effective model that can be adapted to almost any position across sectors.

Gerald P. Ghazi, J.D.Despite all this, why is it sometimes hard to get businesses interested in apprenticeship and a challenge to “close the deal”?  I frequently hear from business engagement professionals – whether from an apprenticeship office, community college, the workforce development system, or an industry intermediary – how challenging it is to get businesses on board to start an apprenticeship or self-identify that what they are already doing as part of their workforce development strategy is apprenticeship.  These challenges range from struggling to articulate the value proposition of apprenticeship to overcoming companies’ fears about paperwork and compliance burdens to concerns about the perceived costs of apprenticeship.

Business engagement does take time and commitment and building relationships does not happen overnight.  Through my over 20 years of partnering with businesses on apprenticeship, I have seen three common mis-steps in how people approach apprenticeship business engagement.

  • Avoid “selling” apprenticeship as a product.  Too many people go in “selling” apprenticeship from step 1, rather than starting with listening to the business about its workforce needs.  Once you have an understanding of a business’ pain points in finding and developing the right talent, you then can talk together about the right solution.  Because of the flexibility and adaptability of the apprenticeship model, apprenticeship often will emerge as the solution.  However, sometimes businesses might not be ready and may want to make smaller changes to their on-boarding and training approach, like doing an on-the-job training program, that could eventually evolve into an apprenticeship.
  • Speak the right language.  Every field has its own jargon.  When you are talking to businesses – you have to speak their language, rather than the language of the education, workforce development, or apprenticeship fields.  For instance, rather than talking about “work processes”, use terms like “job descriptions” and “position responsibilities.”  Instead of discussing “stepped-up wages,” talk about “merit-based increases.”  Avoid using “journeyperson” to describe someone who would mentor or manage an apprentice, and use terms like “fully competent professional”, “mentor” or “manager”.  There may also be industry-specific terminology that would be useful to understand before engaging with an employer.  Research and become familiar with the business sector’s terms and technologies to understand company lingo and skill demands.
  • Relate apprenticeship to what businesses already do.  People sometimes talk to businesses about apprenticeship as if it is a completely new approach to finding and developing workers.  But it is not – almost every business is already doing pieces of what makes up an apprenticeship.  Start by gaining an understanding of how the business currently does recruitment, hiring, onboarding, training, and employee coaching and management – and then help them see how apprenticeship provides a formalized, structured framework and consistent approach that is similar to what they are already doing.

Interested in learning more about these tips and other successful apprenticeship business engagement strategies?  Maher & Maher recently developed a new set of tools for the U.S. Department of Labor.  These tools can help business engagement professionals develop and improve their ability to work with employers to expand the use of apprenticeship. 

  • Talking to Businesses provides quick tips on how to talk the language of businesses while helping to connect their hiring and promotion practices to apprenticeship.
  • Strategies in Action shares practical and real-world examples of the ways business engagement professionals work through challenges to successfully promote apprenticeship as a workforce development strategy.
  • The Business Engagement Quick Guide introduces the 3 key phases of successfully doing business engagement – researching business targets and preparing to engage, building relationships, and getting employers to commit to apprenticeship.

Maher & Maher, an IMPAQ Company, is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. The firm is U.S. Department of Labor’s national technical assistance provider supporting the Employment and Training Administration’s implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and a number of other priority initiatives of the administration that advance and promote the public workforce system. Maher is also currently involved in a number of sector strategy, regional planning, organizational strategic planning and training initiatives in multiple state and regional areas. For more information about our services, visit our website or call us at 1-888-90-Maher.


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