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Apprenticeship: Why it’s a Great Workforce Strategy

by Debby Hopkins

“Learning more about modern apprenticeship and how you can incorporate this workforce strategy into your efforts is well worth your time.”

When you consider how to pursue careers in health care, cyber security, financial services, or law, does an apprenticeship option cross your mind? A December 2019 article in the New York Times, “Want a White-Collar Career Without College Debt? Become an Apprentice”, is a clear indicator of the re-imagination happening with this centuries old training model.

President Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address said, “Tonight, I’m asking more businesses…to offer more… apprenticeships—opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.” Later that year, the federal government made an historic, unprecedented investment of $175 million to expand apprenticeship. Federal investments continued approaching $1 billion to evolve our workforce system so it provides an inclusive pipeline of candidates with the skills businesses need through apprenticeship, a proven training model. Over 700,000 apprentices have begun careers through apprenticeship in traditional construction and skilled trades as well as in health care, financial services, law, and information technology. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 laid the foundation for incorporating apprenticeship into the workforce system, and the enormous investment of federal grants has fueled the initiative.

As author of the team’s grant proposal and project director of the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board’s (SVWDB) Valley to Virginia (V2V) American Apprenticeship Grant, awarded in the first round of $175M apprenticeship funding, I’ve spent much of the last five years exploring various methodologies and advocating on a state and national level for apprenticeship as a workforce strategy. Informed by my previous career as a private industry executive in human resources, I believe that a well-designed apprenticeship program and collaboration with partners who bring value to the table are helping reduce the gap between what our education and workforce system is producing, and what businesses need to thrive.

To understand why apprenticeship is an effective workforce strategy, a practical overview of the model and some misconceptions is critical. First, without an employer, there is no apprenticeship–this is a common misunderstanding. An individual becomes an apprentice when their employer enrolls them into their apprenticeship program, a training plan they designed to meet specific workforce needs in their company and industry. The vast majority of apprenticeship programs in Virginia are registered—they meet government standards including occupation-specific education, paid on-the-job training under the supervision of a mentor, and a wage increase plan approved by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry Division of Registered Apprenticeship. A registered apprentice is an employee gaining expertise in an occupation through a company’s structured apprentice- ship program, who upon completion, will be- come a Journeyman or Journeyworker, earning an internationally recognized credential for proficiency in an occupation, not just one skill as received in an industry certification.

Apprenticeship is a proven workforce strategy gaining traction in education and workforce systems as more and more businesses embrace the apprenticeship model to build their own skilled workforce, and more education and workforce partners begin incorporating apprenticeship into their processes and systems.

A great example of a high school apprenticeship is the Western Virginia Water Authority’s Water/Wastewater Technician  apprenticeship. Students can begin at age 16 and if schedules permit, complete their apprenticeship by end of high school or age 18 having earned over $50,000, gained important industry credentials, with a great career path and no college debt.

Collaboration with education and workforce partners at the onset of developing an apprenticeship program will improve the successful outcomes for all parties and programs. The SVWDB, Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center, and a federal DARS/DBVI Grant (Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities) has worked to develop a pre-apprenticeship program for entry manufacturing apprenticeships. Participants have been co-enrolled in WIOA Title I, Adult and Youth, and WIOA Title IV, Vocational Rehabilitation, in addition to the V2V Grant providing extensive resources to support participants in employment, apprenticeship, and retention to complete apprenticeship programs and earn family-supporting wages.

Learning more about modern apprentice- ship and how you can incorporate this workforce strategy into your efforts is well worth your time. Check out the resources below.

Retrieved on 06/26/20 from https://www.doleta.gov/oa/data_statistics2019.cfm

Apprentices and Participation Trends

  • In FY 2019, more than 252,000 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system.
  • Nationwide, there were over 633,000 apprentices obtaining the skills they need to succeed while earning the wages they need to build financial security.
  • 81,000 apprentices graduated from the apprenticeship system in FY 2019.

Apprenticeship Sponsors and Trends

  • There were nearly 25,000 registered apprenticeship programs active across the
  • 3,133 new apprenticeship programs were established nationwide in FY 2019, representing a 128% growth from 2009 levels.



Apprenticeship.gov is a one-stop source to connect career seekers, employers, and education partners with apprenticeship resources. Learn more about apprenticeships across industries, how to establish a program, and access open apprenticeship jobs.

More About Apprenticeship

Presidential Executive Order Expanding  Apprenticeships in America

LINCS Discussion on Pre-Apprenticeship  Programming

Department of Labor & Industry

Department of Labor and Industry, Division of Registerd Apprenticeship Includes list of companies with apprenticeships, apprenticeship occupations, tranining providers, and agency representatives.

US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Toolkit

Debby HopinsDebby Hopkins is the Chief Workforce Officer and Program Director for the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. She has over 10 years of workforce development experience managing federal workforce grant programs and collaborating with business, education, and other workforce partners to help solve regional talent pipeline challenges. Debby was awarded the Virginia Community College’s (VCCS) “Expanding Opportunities” award in December 2016 and her work was recently highlighted in VIRGINIA BUSINESS, September 2019—“Hershey Boot Camps”—and in HR MAGAZINE, Spring 2019—“Closing the gap: How education, training, and legislation can help bridge the skills divide.”

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