When Hoosiers begin thinking about education and training opportunities after high school, many think first of the traditional four-year college route. Others may think of their local community college or a trade school. One option that many students and families are less familiar with is apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare individuals for highly skilled careers. They can be an ideal pathway for high school students and adults to gain the skills necessary to reach their occupational goals without incurring the costs associated with other forms of postsecondary education. Many apprenticeship opportunities end in acquiring some form of postsecondary credential and over 90% of apprenticeship completers retain employment with the employer sponsor of their program.

Dollar for dollar, no workforce training program packs as much punch as an apprenticeship. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), employers on average realize a return on investment of $1.47 for every $1 invested. Additionally, every $1 invested in apprenticeship leads to a public return of approximately $28 in benefits.

Work-based learning programs, most of which offer on-the-job training opportunities while getting paid, have recently gained in prominence nationally as more employers recognize the significance of engaging with the education system to fill their talent needs. The workforce shortage due to the pandemic has reinforced this need as employers search for talent.

But while the payoffs of apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning are clear for both participants and employers, certain mindsets around these programs continue to serve as barriers. Many have long thought of apprenticeships as a type of training program for those who couldn’t make it to college. This mentality has been a barrier for realizing much earlier the potential success that could be had by implementing this type of comprehensive program.

To help break through these barriers in Indiana, the Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship (OWBLA) launched in 2018 as part of Governor Eric J. Holcomb’s NextLevel Agenda. The office serves to develop and implement a framework of various work-based learning pathways for both youth and adult populations and to help employers break down barriers to implementing these programs. To accomplish this, the office concentrates on three objectives:

• Coordinate efforts and partner with (USDOL to expand registered apprenticeships.

• Develop comprehensive, flexible, and scalable programs that focus on the state’s key economic sectors and regional high-wage, high-demand occupations.

• Build public-private partnerships to increase business and industry engagement with education systems.

In just three years, OWBLA has successfully helped our state increase the number of Hoosiers in work-based learning programs. While many workforce discussions revolve around talent attraction, OWBLA also highly recommends the use of these programs for talent retention.

A big part of Indiana’s success can be attributed to certified State Earn and Learn (SEAL) opportunities. SEALs are Indiana’s state-level apprenticeship programs that also serve as USDOL pre-apprenticeships. They are designed to deliver work-and-learn experiences along with the education, skills and certifications that employers value. These programs have been designed for both adults and youth, last from mere weeks to two years, and often result in industry credentials and college credit.

Though apprenticeships often are associated with construction trades, that’s not always the case. Other examples of SEALs and apprenticeships can be found in advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, health care, and information technology. One of my own children is currently a USDOL apprentice through her employer and is attending college full-time in a registered nursing program.

Today, more employers are realizing the benefits of apprenticeships. Nationally, nearly 26,000 registered apprenticeship programs are currently active with more than 3,100 new programs established nationwide in FY 2020, representing a 73% increase from 2009, according to USDOL data.

And these types of opportunities are available to Hoosiers across Indiana. More than 150 SEAL and 1,100 registered apprenticeship programs exists today, and that number continues to grow. We’re fortunate to be a leader thanks to strong support from Governor Holcomb and other state leaders. Now is the time for our leaders in workforce, education and industry to come together in greater numbers, build upon this momentum and create a robust and vibrant workforce in our state and nation.

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