Five Questions with Casey: Allison Gerber on the Value of Apprenticeships

Posted June 12, 2015, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog fivequestionsallisongerber 2015

Senior Associate Allison Gerber oversees the Casey Foundation’s investments in workforce development. Prior to this position, she served as the executive director of the District of Columbia Workforce Investment Council and as a senior associate with the Aspen Institute's Workforce Strategies Initiative. Gerber earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Virginia’s Sweet Briar College and a law degree from Tulane University in New Orleans.

In this Five Questions edition, Gerber discusses the role of apprenticeships in Casey’s strategies for connecting people to jobs.

Q1. Casey is interested in apprenticeship as a strategy for getting people to work. Why?

An apprenticeship is a proven strategy for helping workers develop skills that employers need to grow their businesses and compete in a global economy. It is a job with a training component built in, which makes it ideal for parents and young people who are trying to balance work and training. It also provides workers with a critical pathway to the middle class. For example, 87% of participants who complete an apprenticeship transition to employment — and at an average starting salary of more than $50,000.

Q2. There are many historical challenges and misconceptions regarding the use of apprenticeships. How is Casey’s approach different?

Apprenticeships have traditionally been filled by white men and used most commonly in the construction and manufacturing fields. We are focused on creating diversity through targeted strategies to recruit and retain more women and people of color. We are also working to expand opportunities in nontraditional fields and in growing employment sectors such as information technology, health care and hospitality.

Q3. What are some strategies that the Foundation is exploring in the apprenticeship field?

We are exploring partnerships with other funders that promote apprenticeships to get more employers on board, advance promising practices and strengthen public policies that support this work. We are also looking at ways to build on the successes of states — South Carolina is one — that are encouraging and increasing their number of apprenticeships. In addition, we are particularly interested in developing pathways and strategies related to apprenticeships that advance economic opportunities for disadvantaged and underserved populations, particularly people of color.  

Q4. What are demand-driven employment strategies, and how is apprenticeship an extension of these strategies?

Casey has a 20-year history of investing in demand-driven strategies, from the Jobs Initiative to the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. This approach involves forming partnerships with employers to identify job opportunities and help people obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in their regional economy. At the same time, employers benefit from an influx of skilled talent and a workforce development system that quickly adapts to changing economic conditions. Apprenticeships are a natural extension of this approach. They meet industry and worker demand by bringing people in, investing in them and helping them build the capacity to advance in the regional economy. And we know that apprenticeships work. The data show a significant return on investment for employers and for workers themselves.

Q5. What’s the future of apprenticeships?

Last year, the White House called for a major push to double the number of apprenticeships in this country. The Department of Labor launched a $100 million grant competition aimed at helping public-private partnerships implement innovative apprenticeship programs. In the short term, this means that there is more support for employers as well as training and education groups interested in supporting the apprenticeship strategy.

In the long term, we will need additional public and private sector investment to sustain and grow apprenticeship programs. The challenge here will be to increase pathways to apprenticeship across a variety of industries and to maintain the focus on intentionally creating opportunities for people of color, youth, young adults and young parents who are not working or in jobs that don't pay enough to get by. Other countries have used industry associations, employers and the educational system to standardize practices related to apprenticeships. In the United States, we still have more work to do on this front.

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