With jobs waiting, Island must master apprenticeships

Teaching success: Apprenticeship programs keep companies -- and whole economies -- moving forward.
By ROSALIE DRAGO //

Apprenticeship is one of the most powerful weapons we have to advance Long Islanders, regional business and the local economy. It’s time to deploy it.

At a time when many employers report a lack of skilled workers, employer-led training – which develops workplace skills based on the latest industry practices, while incorporating related classroom instruction – is being promoted and supported on federal and state levels as a fix for widening skills gaps and a chance to keep up our global competitiveness.

Contrary to common belief, apprenticeships are not limited to construction trades. They are plentiful in fields including healthcare, manufacturing and IT – all sectors that are hiring on Long Island.

Nationally, programs like Microsoft’s LEAP and Salesforce’s apprenticeships with local community partners serving at-risk populations set a good framework for Long Island’s tech community to consider.

Across New York State, in addition to the union trades, successful state-registered apprenticeships have been launched in healthcare and manufacturing, with more than 92 union and non-union companies strengthening both industry and community through some 300 apprentices. Long Island, home to more manufacturers than the five upstate industry hotspots combined, is launching its first state-registered apprenticeships now.

But the most compelling reason to prepare a new generation of workers directly at the worksite is simple: Apprenticeship equals employment.

For the jobseeker, this means you’re earning a living while learning a new skill and gaining competency. For the local economy, it means money is circulated – rather than paused – during the skill-building phase of a Long Islander’s career. Employers are better able to attract and retain workers.

Rosalie Drago: Earning while learning.

Apprenticeships are shown to boost productivity and creativity while developing a skilled and competitive workforce. In communities where a high percentage of students will head directly to work after high school, apprenticeships are a gateway to higher-wage careers. And for the displaced workers who may have the expertise and work ethic an employer needs, but can’t go back to school without earning a living, apprenticeships can help transfer talent. For the region’s most vulnerable, that could be a path out of poverty.

All these people populate the sustainable-talent pipeline employers have been seeking – and can be trained to meet specific business needs.

It should be noted that apprenticeships and college education are not mutually exclusive. Several occupation categories where apprenticeships are common, such as robotics and advanced mechanics, usually require degrees. And many former apprentices pursue academics after they gain aptitude in a particular field, when they have a better sense of which course of study matches their interests.

There are several compelling reasons for employers to pursue this now. Long Island businesses are facing a worker shortage and a much-publicized “brain drain,” not to mention an aging workforce – people with the most trade and institutional knowledge are retiring, and the window to transfer their knowledge and industry skills is closing rapidly.

While employers can, and often do, engage in formal internal training programs, the New York State Registered Apprenticeship program also offers significant value.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made two investments to provide additional support for apprenticeships: SUNY funding for classroom instruction and the Empire State Apprenticeship Tax Credit. The classroom instruction is paid for at local SUNY schools, and employer tax credits start at $2,500 per apprentice.

New York State-registered apprenticeships are a pathway to advancement for our region. If we move forward now, we can cultivate talent and give our residents and companies another compelling reason to stay.

Rosalie Drago is Long Island regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit focused on job-creation and retention. The WDI pilots, supports and scales workforce-development initiatives that foster empowering careers for Long Islanders and a talented workforce for Long Island businesses.