The National Fund Builds Regional Apprenticeship Awareness – and the Capacity to Do It Right

Organization Summary:

In 2007, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions was launched by a group of five national philanthropic partners looking for a better way to implement sector strategies. Developed by partnerships of local employers, educators, and community organizations to meet the labor needs of employers in a given industry sector, sector strategies have been used for decades to connect more people to training and good jobs. Since they’re regional by definition, however, new sector strategy initiatives have always tended to do some wheel-reinventing.

The National Fund was founded to change that through a two-pronged approach. First, its network of 32 regional funder collaboratives disseminates best practices for sector strategies across states. Second, the National Fund engages with thorny issues in workforce development faced by all practitioners, whatever their region or industry, that can benefit from national strategic support. For example, well-paid occupations with strong traditions in apprenticeship also tend to favor white men for the slots. Using its collaboratives to implement equitable recruiting in the dozens of sector strategies it supports, the National Fund helps match the particular needs of regional employers with the national imperative of equitable access.

To date, the National Fund’s startup investments through its regional collaboratives have galvanized over $300 million in matched funding from local philanthropy, employers, and workforce agencies. Balancing employer needs and employee outcomes is a delicate act, though, and through its early experiences in building its funder collaboratives, the National Fund doubled down on another characteristic of successful workforce systems change: job quality. “We saw that it was important to not simply remain as a training and placement organization,” says Fred Dedrick, the National Fund’s executive director. “Just placing people in jobs was not enough – it had better be a good job that we placed them into.”

The National Fund’s work of supporting job quality takes different forms. As part of the ongoing CareerSTAT initiative, for example, the more than 250 member organizations—representing healthcare employers, education and community-based partners, philanthropies, and healthcare industry partnerships—exchange models for improving employee retention and patient experience while also providing clearer paths for career advancement for frontline health workers. One member, UnityPoint Health in Des Moines, Iowa, did that by implementing a workforce analytics system, providing worker education supported by a designated Retention Specialist, and clarifying paths to leadership roles for frontline workers. Now a CareerSTAT champion, UnityPoint supports the National Fund’s Healthcare Workforce Development Academy by sharing their strategies with other hospital administrators aiming to better support their frontline care workforce.

More recently, the National Fund’s focus on job quality has surfaced another new national priority area, one where many of its regional collaboratives have been doing good work for years: apprenticeship.

Overview of Apprenticeship Efforts:

Apprenticeship provides a solid wage and clear-cut expectations for the employer and employee. But it’s more than just a job and a contract – an apprenticeship is also a clear educational and career plan in a field with guaranteed local demand.

During the Great Recession, Dedrick and his colleagues began noticing impressive results from several regional collaboratives using apprenticeship to place trainees in well-paid, durable occupations. For example, one sector partnership supported by National Fund’s Milwaukee Workforce Alliance, the Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, placed 726 community members in jobs in 2016. 172 of those were registered apprenticeships as industrial maintenance technicians (IMT) with an average entry wage of over $19 an hour. That wage is common in the field; what wasn’t common were the demographics of those placed. In a field dominated by white men, 70 percent of placed apprentices were people of color.

To help in its apprenticeship work, last year the National Fund brought on Pam Howze, Ed.D. Howze’s previous job at North Carolina’s Department of Commerce saw her working closely with Triad Workforce Solutions, the National Fund collaborative that launched the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners for advanced manufacturing. Guilford has become a model for multi-employer apprenticeship programs, and recently received a $3.2 million state appropriation to expand its efforts into three neighboring counties. One offshoot, Apprenticeship Randolph, is now doubling its apprenticeship recruitmentfor its second year of operation.

With Howze on board, the National Fund is looking to expand apprenticeship into other nontraditional sectors. Healthcare remains a major focus, and CareerSTAT members in Baltimore, MD and Grand Rapids, MI have launched apprenticeships in environmental health services and medical assisting, respectively. A program in the Fairview Health System in the Twin Cities region aims to place incumbent frontline care workers in degree apprenticeships for nursing; UnityPoint, too, is planning a medical assisting apprenticeship. IT is another area of interest. Techtonic Group of Boulder, CO advertises its software development apprenticeship on Facebook, Craigslist, and Twitter, prioritizing opportunity youth and people of color left out by conventional higher education. With the National Fund’s collaborative connections, they’re now working to take the model to the east coast.

Apprenticeship can mean quality jobs for workers, equitable prosperity for communities, and a sustainable skills pipeline for employers. But in spite of its proven record and burgeoning national excitement, however, apprenticeship know-how remains low. “We realized over the last few months that most people have a general idea of what apprenticeship is,” says Navjeet Singh, the National Fund’s senior vice president, “but fewer people understands what it entails.” With time-tested best practices and a national vision for advancing job quality, the National Fund has plans to change that.

Interested in learning more about the National Fund's apprenticeship work? Contact Elicia Wilson for additional information.