While already struggling to replace retiring tradespeople, apprenticeship programs are dealing with a host of new challenges related to external competition and internal challenges. Despite these hurdles, stakeholders say apprenticeship programs are successful overall, and they are anticipating a positive hiring outlook in the coming years, according to a recent report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Top Trends in Apprenticeship Programs—2024 Survey Results examines program initiatives, the challenges faced by programs and apprentices, and the prevalence and impact of mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) issues within programs. Below are some key takeaways reflecting responses from 135 U.S. and Canadian apprenticeship programs.

Program Challenges

More than half (54%) of survey respondents report that their apprenticeship programs are “extremely successful” overall but also face many challenges. The program challenges rated as “very prevalent” by the highest number of respondents fall into three categories.

  • Communication difficulties—This includes communicating the value of the trades to external stakeholders (51%) and prospective apprentices (65%).
  • Filling the future pipeline—Training programs report a shortage (41%) and a lower quality (32%) of potential candidates. In addition, 37% of respondents report finding qualified instructors and staff as a “very prevalent” challenge.
  • External competition—This includes competition from other business (24%) and educational (22%) models. These models could include attending a four-year college or technical college rather than enrolling in an apprenticeship program.

Other program challenges that are cited as “somewhat” or “very prevalent” include difficulty in replacing the number of retired tradespeople (58%), keeping up with the rapid pace of technology (51%) and cybersecurity issues (41%). 

Individual Apprentice Challenges

“Child care and/or elder care issues” is identified as the top challenge for individual apprentices, with more than four in five (86%) respondents identifying this as a “very” or “somewhat prevalent” challenge. This is followed by:

  • Drug testing/fitness for work issues (69%)
  • Injuries due to the nature of work (67%)
  • Increased workhours due to reduced hires (67%)
  • Language and communication barriers (64%)
  • Transportation issues (63%)
  • Unemployment due to cyclical/seasonal nature of work (63%)—a widespread challenge in construction industries.

Recruitment and Retention Challenges

Three issues are rated as “significant” recruitment and retention challenges by more than one-fifth of participating programs: low wages/benefit levels during training (23%), offers of more steady work in other industry sectors (22%) and the stigma attached to skilled trades work (22%). Additional challenges are rated as “significant” as follows:

  • Apprentice poaching (19%), in which outside organizations recruit apprentices away from the organization in which they completed their education
  • Lack of/ineffective formal mentorship initiatives (19%)
  • Physical/hands-on nature of work (19%)
  • Lack of/ineffective preapprenticeship initiatives (17%)
  • Length of time it takes to produce skilled workers (16%).

Recruitment Strategies

As part of their recruitment strategies, apprenticeship programs are making efforts to target specific population groups. The majority of programs target:

  • Military members/veterans (82%)
  • Women (81%)
  • People of color (76%).

Life Skills Initiatives

Life skills initiatives are key components of a well-rounded apprentice educational experience. These programs extend instruction beyond job-related duties and focus on the personal development of apprentices. Frequently included components of life skills initiatives are:

  • Personal safety (84%)
  • Mathematical skills (84%)
  • Work/jobsite behavior (83%)
  • CPR/AED training (79%)
  • Sexual harassment training (77%)
  • Union citizenship (76%)
  • Health care benefits (76%)
  • Employability skills (74%), which commonly emphasize the importance of proper attire, adequate transportation and timeliness.

Partnerships

Apprenticeship programs collaborate extensively with various external partners to provide education and job assistance, facilitate recruitment/outreach efforts, establish articulation agreements, utilize facilities and pursue funding opportunities. Construction contractors (76%) and labor organizations (73%) are the most common collaboration partners, followed by:

  • High schools/school boards (53%)
  • Technical/community colleges (47%)
  • Community-based organizations (45%)
  • Military branches (43%)
  • Preapprenticeship programs (43%)
  • Vocational schools (42%)
  • Colleges/universities (39%)
  • Government agencies (35%).

Members can access the full survey results at www.ifebp.org/apprenticeship.

Justin Held, CEBS

Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation Service: Foundation Research Surveys

 

Benefits Related Topics That Interest Him Most: Behavioral economics, socially responsible investing, apprenticeship training

 

Personal Insight: Justin loves everything baseball, visiting and checking off ballparks as he travels. In this free time, he enjoys hiking at national parks, cycling and reading about U.S. history.

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