Overcome Stubborns

Apprenticeships: a Classic Solution to the Modern Problem of Worker Shortages

The U.S. labor market has become like a crazy quilt: mass layoffs in certain industries, along with dire shortages of workers in businesses ranging from accounting to trucking. To close the critical gaps, industries are turning to modern versions of an age-old institution: the apprenticeship. “Apprenticeships are the most promising solution to addressing the current labor shortage. Why? Because apprenticeships are jobs first and foremost–jobs that pay a living wage–not just training programs,” Ryan Craig, author of Apprentice Nation: How the Earn and Learn Alternative to Higher Education Will Create a Stronger and Fairer America, told From Day One. “They’re accessible to anyone with the potential and willingness to work hard–and much more accessible than tuition-based, debt-based college, or other training programs.”Causes of the labor shortage are many: A workforce quickly aging into retirement, the slowing of population growth, the burdensome cost of post-secondary education, lack of access to affordable childcare, and an increase in entrepreneurship. All of these have contributed to a shrinking workforce. As of January, the U.S. labor force participation rate is 62.5%. A couple decades ago, at the beginning of 2001, it was 67.2%.Employers are attacking the problem on many fronts. Some are pulling out the stops to retain older workers who might otherwise retire, and some are coaxing the semi-retired back to the office with flexible new arrangements. Others are dropping four-year degree requirements to broaden their talent pools, or bulking up benefits packages to include childcare, paid leave, and fertility benefits to attract and retain workers. Apprenticeships have joined that medley of solutions, with employers, advocacy organizations, and policymakers exploring and investing in the “earn-and-learn” model to fill talent pipelines from hospitality to healthcare to finance. Apprenticeships Beyond Blue CollarsApprenticeships represent a mutually beneficial way of hiring and training workers. Apprentices get on-the-job training, related instruction (often in a classroom or virtual classroom), and a paycheck all at the same time. Employers get the workers they need, trained to their specifications. In the U.S., apprenticeships are most often associated with skilled trades–it’s normal for plumbers, electricians, construction workers to complete apprenticeships–yet white-collar professions are only beginning to forge a connection with earn-and-learn programs. In 2020, professional services firm Aon announced that it would invest $30 million in its apprenticeship program over the next five years, with a goal of creating 10,000 apprenticeships in the U.S. within Aon and its partner organizations by 2030. In 2022, IBM committed to putting $250 million toward apprenticeships and other “new collar” programs by 2025.Aon’s program includes three tracks: insurance, HR, and IT. Apprentices take courses in insurance and business administration at partner colleges. Francheska Feliciano, the director of Aon’s apprenticeship program, told From Day One that career changers have found a home there. “We have found that those that thrive in our program tend to be career changers, but our program has a wide range of candidates with varied backgrounds, customer service, hospitality, or other service type roles.”Last year, the Biden Administration announced that it will invest $330 million to expand federally registered apprenticeships programs. In July, the Department of Labor awarded $17 million to expand existing apprenticeships and promote the model in new industries. In November, Maryland Governor Wes Moore committed $3 million to developing apprenticeships for public-sector jobs and $1.6 million toward the development of hospitality industry apprenticeships. “Maryland has set ambitious goals for expanding apprenticeship and we mean to meet them,” said Portia Wu, Maryland's Department of Labor secretary, in a press release. “Registered apprenticeship is key to our state’s economic success. We’ve already hit historic highs in apprenticeship adoption and today’s investments will accelerate our progress.”Alleviating the Local Labor ShortageApprenticeships could help solve local labor shortages for companies whose workers must be on-site–crucial for skilled trades like manufacturing or nursing–which are experiencing a pipeline problem of their own. Rather than recruiting the skilled talent from elsewhere, employers can use apprenticeships to develop the talent in their community. As housing inventory trails demand, employers who can tap their local talent markets will have the advantage, said Renee Haltom, the VP of research communications at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, during a panel discussion last month at the Richmond Economic Forecast  “The regions that figure out housing are going to be ahead of the curve in terms of dealing with the coming demographic shifts,” Haltom said, referring to the aging U.S. workforce. Annelies Goger, who studies how to scale earn-and-learn models at the Brookings Institution, sees the advantages for local employers. Apprenticeships are a way to draw on local talent, and employers are more likely to retain locals than workers who have relocated, she told From Day One. “Rising rents have made it hard for employers to find and retain people only with the normal ways they’ve recruited people, so they’re looking into a lot of other ways and channels for finding talent,” Goger said. Apprentices Enter Finance and AccountingIn accounting and finance, more workers are retiring than are entering the field. According to a 2024 analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “even if every unemployed person with experience in the financial activities or professional and business service sectors were employed,” the report reads, “only 42% and 44% of the existing job vacancies in these industries would be filled, respectively.”In 2022, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) launched the first federally registered apprenticeship for finance and accounting professionals, and in its first year signed up 17 employers from 15 industries, including healthcare, industrial gas, banking, and manufacturing. One hundred apprentices have registered with the program in its first year.When AICPA and CIMA set out to create apprenticeships, the aim was to address the worker shortage in the accounting and finance field with early career talent. “When we started talking to employers who would want to hire people from these programs, we found that they were more interested in reskilling workers,” said Joanne Fiore, AICPA’s VP of pipeline and apprenticeships. Rather than recruit new talent, employers wanted to use apprenticeships  to retain their current workforce and train them as strategically minded contributors. The purpose of the Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners is to develop management accountants for the finance function of the future–not just number-crunchers, but “key players in strategic decision-making and broader business transformation,” said Fiore.Even if this program is able to shrink the skills gap, the labor shortage is likely to persist. There just aren’t enough young people entering the field to balance out their retiring elders. One problem: the profession has a reputation for being, well, dull.To fill the talent pipeline, and help rebrand the profession, AICPA and CIMA have piloted a youth apprenticeship program in Maryland high schools, aiming to drum up excitement and interest in the field among young people.Customizing the Programs Organizations, employers, and educators have found ways to tailor apprenticeship programs to their needs. They’re not just for recruiting, they can be deployed for talent development as well. “With the digital transformation of our economy, tens of millions of jobs now require workers to use tools to build things–only the tools are digital and workers no longer need to wear hardhats,” said Craig, author of Apprentice Nation.Often, those skills are software related. Where hospitals and healthcare providers use Epic, marketers use HubSpot, and HR uses Workday. “Companies are increasingly demanding that applicants for these jobs already have these platform skills–skills which are much harder to learn in a classroom than on-the-job via an apprenticeship,” Craig said.“Apprenticeship brings an organic culture of learning into any workplace and helps business perform better,” writes Jean Eddy in Crisis-Proofing Today’s Learners: Reimagining Career Education to Prepare Kids for Tomorrow’s World. “An apprenticeship program breathes new life into workplaces and lets employers quickly tap into a culture of learning that so many now are desperate to build.”Scaling Earn-and-Learn to Quell the Labor ShortageApprenticeships are difficult to start, and they’re difficult to scale. Few employers have the infrastructure to both employ and train unskilled workers at the same time, and most require the help of intermediaries like the AICPA and CIMA, which provide the instruction and the infrastructure.While it may be a while before apprenticeships alone make a dent in the labor shortage, analysis of the success of existing programs is promising. Not only are retention rates high–Aon, for instance, retains 80% of its apprentices–the Department of Labor estimates that employers get a 44.3% return on investment for apprenticeship programs.“While traditional apprenticeships emphasized hands-on skill acquisition under a mentor, modern apprenticeships often integrate technology-based learning, including virtual simulations and online coursework, to complement on-site training,” said Katie Breault, SVP of growth and impact at YUPRO Placement, a recruiting firm focused on skills-based hiring. Finance and tech roles are particularly suited to apprenticeships, she told From Day One. “Industries undergoing digital transformation, for example, greatly benefit from such programs. They offer real-time learning opportunities, crucial for staying relevant in dynamic fields.”The problem with apprenticeships as a solution to the labor shortage is that we just don’t have enough of them yet, said Craig. Plus, in his estimation, they’re under-funded and under-marketed on both the demand and supply side. “Many young people and their parents think of apprenticeships as a ‘second tier’ option–if they think of them at all,” he laments in Apprentice Nation. White collar employers may be thinking much the same. Yet as investment continues and apprentices pop up in surprising places, like the finance department, enthusiasm may spread. “It certainly fits the accounting profession,” Fiore said. “And if it fits the accounting profession, my sense is that it will fit many professions.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.(Featured photo by Amorn Suriyan/iStock by Getty Images)

BY Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | February 14, 2024


The From Day One Newsletter is a monthly roundup of articles, features, and editorials on innovative ways for companies to forge stronger relationships with their employees, customers, and communities.

Overcome Stubborns
By Mary Pieper | February 06, 2024

Diverse Perspectives, Unified Goals: Embracing Diversity in the Workplace

Kristin Taylor, executive vice president of workforce solutions at Avenica, knows what it is like to have an identity that is often misunderstood.During From Day One’s conference in Atlanta, Taylor shared that she is bipolar. “That does not mean that I’m unpredictable,” she told panel moderator Ernie Suggs, race and culture reporter for the Atlantic Journal-Constitution. “I just get really sad sometimes, and I struggle with things like public speaking and networking.”At Avenica, Taylor feels supported. For example, if things are too much for her while attending a conference, she can always ask a colleague at the event to step in for a bit, she says. “How fabulous is it that we can all be our authentic selves, and really feel like we can articulate our needs and our preferences?” Taylor said. “We are really welcoming that conversation [around] diversity of thought but also diversity of preference.”Taylor’s story illustrates why it isn’t enough for companies to simply invite people of color, women, and others who traditionally have not been part of the dominant culture to join their team.The executive panelists discussed the topic “How to Embrace Diversity of All Kinds in the Workplace” at From Day One's Atlanta conference at the Georgia Aquarium (photos by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)Karlene Gordon, senior vice president and diversity and inclusion officer at Ameris Bank, said she once heard Creative Artists Agency global DEI speaker Nzinga Shaw say at a conference: “If you’re inviting people into a dirty house, they’re not going to stay.”“If you go to someone’s house and it’s filthy, do you sit down? Do you take a glass of water from them? Or are you trying to find your exit real quick?” Gordon said.Many people of color already have imposter syndrome, says Gordon. If the leader of the company that hires them is unaware of this common issue, “they’re not going to perform.”Kitty Chaney-Reed, chief leadership, culture and inclusion officer at IBM said the company has eight communities for employees with various identities, including veterans and neurodivergent folks.“It helps in terms of giving people a place to fit in,” she said. “And there’s intersectionality. People can belong to more than one community. For us, that has been a huge game changer.”IBM also ensures that a college degree is not a necessity for entry, says Chaney-Reed. Over the past three years, only 50% of the available jobs with the company required applicants to be university graduates.Making the Case for DEIThe highest performing organizations worldwide are those that focus on building a strong culture based on diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, according to a recent partnered study between Fortune magazine and the Institute for Corporate Productivity.Liz Pittinger, VP of customer success at Stork Club, a family building and reproductive health company that helps employee groups design benefit packages, says that’s something she emphasizes when working with HR leaders.“One of the things that we do whenever we’re partnering with our customers or prospects is help arm their teams with the data points they need to go in front of the decision maker who controls the budget,” she said.Part of Pittinger’s job is to explain why Stork Club has certain benefits, like its doula program, and how they can impact company culture. Research shows that having a doula in the room with the person who is in labor can save lives.This is especially crucial for women of color, who have a far greater maternal mortality rate in the United States than their white peers, says Pittinger.  “A wealthy, highly educated Black woman with access to great care is still three times more likely to die than a poor white woman in a rural community,” she said.Getting to Know the WorkforceAn important step toward fostering a workplace that embraces diversity of all kinds is to build relationships with the employees, says Cheryl Kern, vice president of DEIB at MillerKnoll.“As I came into our organization three years ago, the first thing that I wanted to do was understand our people, because through understanding you truly get to know the culture and identify the areas that need to be transformed,” she said.Another advantage of this approach is “when people see you are about them, they will care about the work you’re doing,” Kern said.Now that DEI efforts nationwide are experiencing pushback, Kern’s relationship-building efforts are paying off. “While the external waters are really choppy, we have brought along advocates and allies that have said, ‘I’m on this journey with you,’” she said.Mary Pieper is a freelancer reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Overcome Stubborns
By Katie Chambers | February 07, 2024

In Employee Experience, What Is True No Matter What?

Katharyne Gabriel, chief of human resources, North America at the Coca-Cola Company, has fond childhood memories of heading to the McDonald’s drive-through window with her mother to enjoy a Diet Coke from the fountain “because it just tastes better.”She’s not alone in this, she says. Most Coca-Cola employees have a strong connection with the brand. “We are very proud of our company’s purpose, which is to refresh the world and make a difference,” Gabriel said. “And there are many ways that we’re able to then draw from our employees and help them find connection to their career and the community.”Since the lesson of recent years is that the workplace will be buffeted by one disruption after another, employers need to focus on fundamental values that resonate with workers in any season. In a fireside chat session at From Day One’s conference in Atlanta, Gabriel shared how the Coca-Cola Co. focuses on employee fulfillment.Gabriel cites three tenets that hold true in elevating employee experience. The first is transparency, or employees feeling like they have full context for why and how certain decisions are being made. Next is autonomy, which Gabriel describes as allowing employees to make career decisions that benefit their personal professional growth and the lives of their families. Lastly is recognition: helping workers be appreciated for their individual identities as well as their workplace contributions.Katharyne Gabriel, the Coca-Cola Co.'s chief of human resources, kicked off the conference in a fireside chat titled “In Employee Experience, What Is True No Matter What?” (photos by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)These have been especially valuable during recent years, during which society has faced a pandemic, natural disasters, war, and economic recession. “No matter what is coming at us, how can we best serve our population?” Gabriel said. By focusing on core values like transparency, autonomy, and recognition, corporations can provide a steady foundation even in times of uncertainty.A Practical Approach to Recognition“Recognition and specificity around behaviors or goals, those are cultural icons for many companies, including the Coca-Cola company,” Gabriel said. “But [what’s also important is] broadening that definition so that my unique individuality is recognized.”Coca-Cola’s Thrive Career Network is an example of employee engagement through a combination of recognition and career development. Gabriel says that the corporation’s values of transparency and autonomy are at the forefront of the program. “We’ve tried to be very transparent about the tools and the resources we have for each of us as employees to drive a career in the company,” she said.They’re also focused on being clear about leadership behaviors that are especially important, she says. “We’ve put our employees in the driver’s seat with meaningful tools to help them effectively navigate what that career path looks like.”Part of building out an individualized career path for an employee is updating the definition of growth. “We always hear growth, and think it means more–bigger title, bigger remit–and that isn’t what the growth aspiration is for everyone,” Gabriel said. Instead, she prefers the word “fulfillment.” This allows space for those interested in a more traditional vertical growth, but also those who see professional development as an opportunity to try out a new department, mentor others, or learn new skills.Leroy Chapman, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, interviewed Gabriel in the fireside chat“We’ve started with broadening out how we define a career. How do we then make sure that we’re meeting individual needs and recognizing what they’re looking to get out of the Coca-Cola company?” Gabriel said. With 80,000 workers in their network, moderator Leroy Chapman, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out, “That’s a lot of employees to support!”Subsequently, that’s a lot of pressure to potentially put on managers hoping to guide and nurture their workforce. Gabriel shares that the company developed a set of manager tools that encourages leaders to facilitate conversations and think critically and creatively with team members about what they need to succeed. This strategy releases managers from feeling the need to have all the answers, but instead to simply be accountable for having the conversation to lead colleagues to the proper resources for their version of fulfillment.Building a Culture Rooted in Diversity, Equity, and Belonging“The 800,000 employees between the company and our bottling partners are dispersed in 200 markets across the globe. And we know it’s imperative that we represent the markets that we’re serving in order to stay in front of the consumer needs,” Gabriel said.“We aim to create equal opportunities for our employees in order to meet that growth mission for the company.” This involves creating an inclusive environment in which employees are set up to bring their individual selves to the workplace and build a career that best serves themselves and their families.Coca-Cola has the goal to become 50% female-led by the year 2030, Gabriel says. Already, its board of directors and executive leadership team have hit that benchmark, and its North America operating unit is being led by its first female president, Jennifer Mann. The company also hopes to soon have its own demographics in the U.S. reflect current racial and ethnic census data.One way to cultivate a sense of belonging, especially in a workforce increasingly defined by a rift between older and younger workers, is through listening. “We’ve checked ourselves not to make assumptions about what the workforce entering wants or doesn’t want, and how different  they are from other generations. [Instead], we ask,” Gabriel said.Coca-Cola works to instill its values in employees early, before they move into leadership roles. The organization is finding volunteerism is increasingly important among younger generations, and in return has increased its paid volunteer hours for employees and created a “Kindness is Refreshing” campaign. This spirit of generosity among younger employees is perfectly aligned with Coca-Cola’s values and bodes well for the company’s sustainability. “Coca-Cola has been at this for a long time, 137 years to be exact,” Gabriel said. “And we’re looking to live this purpose for another 137 years.”Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.


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