Apprenticeship Programs Rebound, with Room for Growth
After years of diminishing returns, manufacturing apprenticeships are on the rise in Connecticut.
In 2010, the state’s entire manufacturing sector had only 170 registered apprentices—someone who learns the practice through a formal education and hands-on instruction—according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Five years later, the number of apprentices was virtually flat at 173.
“Apprenticeships are a key talent pipeline in Connecticut, so having an ineffective program for many years was holding the sector back,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said.
DiPentima said there were no incentives for small companies to take on an apprentice, making it challenging for a business to sacrifice the time with no support.
“And the ones that did take on an apprentice would often see them move to a larger firm,” he added.
Manufacturing Innovation Fund
But in 2016, DiPentima was appointed to the Manufacturing Innovation Fund’s apprenticeship program subcommittee, which breathed new life into the workforce development efforts.
The program provides a matching grant that assists in wage subsidies, tuition reimbursement, and competency testing.
And in just seven years, the number of apprenticeship programs shot up to 469—a 271% increase.
“This program opened the door for small- and medium-sized businesses,” DiPentima said.
“And manufacturers jumped at the chance to be involved.”
DiPentima explains that manufacturing apprenticeships represent unique career opportunities.
“While a formal education in manufacturing is helpful, the value of hands-on training on a shop floor is immeasurable,” he said. “Nothing compares to it.”
And in an interview with The Connecticut Mirror, DOL apprenticeship director Todd Berch called apprenticeships “the other four-year degree.”
“Instead of going to a classroom every day, you go to the world of work,” he said.
“Upon graduation from college, you get a degree. Upon graduation from an apprenticeship, you have your career.”
‘What’s Right for You’
Manufacturers benefit under the MIF program as well, as they receive financial incentives to take on apprentices and have the freedom to customize regulate their own program.
“We want manufacturers to work with us and develop what’s right for them,” DiPentima said.
DiPentima also said there is a strong chance companies will want to hire their apprentices when the program is done.
“There’s a lot of investment that goes into training apprentices, so companies take these programs very seriously,” he said.
“And for the most part, they want to keep these people after they’re done with the apprenticeship program.”
More awareness of the MIF program can also help ease Connecticut’s labor shortage crisis, DiPentima said.
There are an estimated 11,000 job openings in the state’s manufacturing sector, driven by an aging workforce, the state’s high cost of living, and parents encouraging their children to go to college.
And CBIA’s 2022 Manufacturing Report revealed 87% of business leaders experienced difficulty finding and/or retaining employees, while 44% said the lack of skilled applicants is the greatest obstacle to growth.
This lack of skilled applicants is in part due to a lack of manufacturing apprentices.
Of the approximately 4,368 manufacturing companies in Connecticut, only 320—7%—have a registered apprentice.
But with the Connecticut General Assembly’s passage of legislation that expands the manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit to pass-through entities, many small and midsize companies are now on an equal playing field with larger manufacturers.
Expanding Talent Pipelines
While the program is on the right path, DiPentima said there is room for improvement.
Between 6,000-8,000 people are needed annually in manufacturing, and half of these should come from apprenticeships, he said.
“If you want 3,000 apprenticeships, the pipeline of people simply isn’t large enough right now,” he said.
“The demand is there, but the people are not.”
DiPentima said awareness is critical to the program’s success.
“Awareness of what the program is, what it has to offer, and how valuable it is to all manufacturers,” he said.
“This is a robust program with high paying jobs in the end, we just need to spread the word.”
DiPentima also said Connecticut needs to be a more attractive place for apprentices to want to live.
“We need an active pipeline coming into the state,” he said. “Without that, we have to build our own talent.”
He highlighted CBIA’s Transform Connecticut policy recommendations, designed to expand pathways to rewarding careers and new opportunities for residents, that has the support of almost half of the incoming legislature.
“These recommendations are a series of common sense solutions around workforce training, housing, student loans, healthcare, and immigration,” DiPentima said.
“And if we want more apprentices in the state, we need to build a sustainable opportunity economy that emphasizes affordability, meaningful careers, and a positive business climate.
“The opportunity is there. We just need to grab it.”
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