For those of us running industrial or manufacturing companies, the need for qualified workers might be greater than ever. With unemployment at historically low levels, finding good people is getting harder and harder. There are 6.6 million job openings in the U.S., many of which require advanced skills. In addition, baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day in the U.S. As a result, companies and schools are considering new and different ways to establish a qualified workforce.

Earlier this year, we encouraged the cooperative model between industry and academia. Academia needs to be part of the solution and not continue to do the same old thing. In July, President Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which promotes more effective collaboration between employers and educational institutions when providing technical training to students.

This legislation gives employers input to help determine how federal funding for career and technical education (CTE) is spent. Now is a great time to be heard. Let state education agencies know what your workforce challenges are, partner with high schools and colleges, and encourage work-based learning.

Apprenticeships are a great way to attack this large issue. In mid-July, the U.S. Department of Labor announced $150 million in grants to expand apprenticeships on a national scale. These funds are “intended to increase the level of apprenticeship activity among a range of new employers, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses.” They will also “promote a sector-based approach to large-scale expansion of apprenticeships that include a paid, work-based learning component and a required educational or instructional component that results in the issuance of an industry-recognized credential and meets appropriate quality-assurance standards.” 

“The expansion of apprenticeships makes the greatest workforce in the world – the American workforce – even stronger,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “This funding is an investment in America’s workforce, will contribute to competitiveness by helping job creators meet increasing demands for skilled workers and meets the nation’s need for family-sustaining careers.”

We took a look at the website for the National Association of State and Territorial Apprenticeship Directors and linked directly to see what is happening in Ohio – an industry-intensive state. It’s called ApprenticeOhio (AO), and they are encouraging employers to partner with them. We have also read about the “Apprenticeship Connecticut” initiative, which seeks to identify and make “job-ready” thousands of unemployed and underemployed residents – from teens to middle-agers. Check out similar opportunities in your state by going to www.nastad.us and linking to your state to see what is happening there.

Did you notice two terms used by the Labor Department? They indicated that apprenticeships will lead to the “issuance of an industry-recognized credential.” Credentialing is already part of the educational landscape, but it could become a model in our current era of Industry 4.0 (I4.0). A possible scenario is to be trained in a specific field for two years followed by testing to establish the necessary knowledgebase. Since this model could thrive in an online environment, traditional institutions might be seeing the writing on their brick-and-mortar walls.

We believe that having access to apprenticeships and credentialing will help encourage the next generation of workers to move toward industry. It has been shown that the younger generations are interested in developing skills in their jobs.

Will it be more and better apprenticeships, credentialing or some other training technique that meets the current needs of industry? Consider how you and your company can play a role. Whatever the best next step is, it’s clear that academia and industry need to partner to develop a model that delivers the right people with the right skills at the right time.